29 January 2018
Local Heroes
Picture: Daniel Purvis
As published in Fritz Magazine.
Written by Katie Spain.

Meet Mercy Ngun Ceu and Hiba Alwani, two young ladies with big smiles to match their hearts. Both arrived in Australia from different corners of the world but share a passion for helping new arrivals to our shores. Hiba was born in Syria and arrived in Australia in December 1990 when she was three months old. “My parents are both GPs,” she says. “They applied to several places including Australia and Canada to give us a better future. It was easier back then than it is these days.” Hiba adores her folks. “I really look up to them and all they’ve achieved. Mum comes from a family of 10 kids and had to say bye to all of them.”

Growing up, Hiba was the only Syrian in her school. “There weren’t really Syrians around but it’s nice to have a big Syrian community here now.” She is saddened her homeland is known for being war torn. “It’s a very beautiful country and has a lot of history but it’s known as a country where not many people are living anymore. A place of refugees.”

Hiba studied Community Services, has a Diploma in Family Intake and Support, and completed a Bachelor of Psychology at University of Adelaide. Her role as a settlement and youth project officer at the Australian Migrant Resource Centre allows her to help new Arabic speaking arrivals. “I’m in the process of becoming a certified counsellor. I like to talk to women and help them. I went to an Islamic school but there weren’t any school counsellors. I feel like the young girls can relate to me.”

Hiba didn’t encounter racism until September 11. “I remember that clearly because we had to have security at the school after that. When I started wearing the scarf at 12 years old I’d go out and notice people would stare. There weren’t as many Muslim girls around then as there are now. You see them everywhere now and I don’t feel it’s such a big deal.”

Hiba also organises Girls Power Talk events and activities. Her aim is to encourage young girls to study and become leaders. “We want them to be a strength in their community.”

Mercy is also passionate about her role. The chatty pocket rocket arrived in Melbourne in 2005 with her family on a humanitarian visa from Myanmar. After finishing Year 12 she relocated to Adelaide to study a Bachelor of Justice and Society (Criminology) at Flinders University. She earns a crust at AMRC as a settlement coordinator and is a youth leader at Adelaide Chin Christian Church and the assistant treasurer at the Chin Community of SA Inc. “I’m originally from Burma, Chin State. My family fled because of the conditions in Burma. It’s very hectic there and because of our culture and religion we’re always threatened.” Mercy took on the role at AMRC because she loves being involved with her local community. “It’s in my blood to help people.” She assists with everything from advice, referrals, and basic assistance. “It could just be as little as someone coming in the office with a catalogue or brochure of some sort. They don’t speak English, so think everything that comes in their mail is a bill and panic. You have to try and just calm them down and say it’s nothing.”

Mercy has her sights set on becoming a police officer. “The biggest challenges for people my age here in Australia is creating a stable pathway for yourself for the future.” She smiles. “I want to have my own family and my own house. I don’t want to rely on anyone. I just want be stable, independent, strong on my own, and happy.”

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