At 19 years old, Maryam was homeless. Her family home was no longer safe because of family violence and after four days of staying with friends, she reached out to the NSW Department of Family and Community Services for support. The next day, Maryam was sleeping in a MacKillop Family Services home.
This year’s Homelessness Week theme is ‘Ending homelessness together’ and Maryam is one young person whose story of courage and determination shows what can be achieved when the sector and community work together.
After receiving a call from the Department, Tammy Momdijian, House Supervisor for MacKillop, met with Maryam and chatted to her about her situation, her goals and what receiving the support of an organisation like MacKillop could provide.
“Maryam came into our service stating she had suffered violence at home”, said Tammy. “Despite the challenges she had faced, she had big dreams from the moment she arrived and we could tell she had put a lot of thought into what she wanted in life.”
Maryam said she will always remember the first time she spoke to Tammy.
“When I told her what I had been through and what I wanted to do, she believed in me … and that’s when I started believing in myself.”
Maryam’s family has experienced a lifetime of trauma. As members of the oppressed Hazara community in Afghanistan, her parents were targets of the Taliban. When Maryam was 10 months old her father fled to Pakistan and then to Australia. He sponsored the family to join him and Maryam, her mother and older brother arrived in Sydney in 2005. Maryam was six years of age.
For all the family, adapting to the new language and lifestyle of Australia was a challenge.
“We couldn’t speak any English – I started going to primary school in Year 1 but it was very hard”, said Maryam.
“The school experience was bad for me. I started wearing the hijab in 2007 when I was only nine years old. I was excited at the prospect of wearing it and I wanted to try it. But it made my time at school even harder as I stood out. I didn’t make many friends.”
After speaking to Tammy at the start of this year, Maryam stayed at the Blacktown property for three weeks and then moved to a more independent housing option with MacKillop, where she stayed for four months.
“Maryam had already started a traineeship with a medical laboratory and pathology practice”, said Tammy. “Because she worked and was very independent I referred her to our transitional program. She was hesitant to start with as she wanted to move out on her own and be completely independent. I explained how using our service for a little longer would assist her to move on more successfully.
“During her time at the transitional accommodation she learned about the trauma of other young people staying with her and she had time to think about her own trauma and begin to heal. She also learned about practical life skills like budgeting, paying bills, writing a grocery list and sticking to it: skills to help her when living independently.
Maryam saved and purchased a car which gave her more freedom. After a successful traineeship, she was offered a full-time position and shortly after she moved into shared accommodation with a friend.
This month, Maryam is also taking the next step towards reaching her career goals.
“I’m starting a Diploma of Counselling at TAFE and then my aim is to get into university and gain a degree in psychology. Then I would love to get a PhD in psychology or neuroscience. The diploma takes nine months and I’ll also continue to work.
“I’ve also set up the GZ Girls Foundation. I want to teach and pass on everything I’ve learned, empowering women to say no to domestic violence. In 10 years’ time I would love it if the Foundation has made a big impact in the Hazara community, I have my PhD and am living independently – living my own life, and doing well.
“If it wasn’t for MacKillop, I wouldn’t be where I am today, managing money, paying bills and rent on time, linking me with services to help me, and a lot of mental support. With MacKillop, I really got a boost into life. I had a place to stay and they gave me and my family some space.
“MacKillop was like a stepping stone to the next chapter of my life.”