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  • kate2697

Young Afghan Leaders

I became aware of the Afghan Young Leaders when they cooked dinner as part of the "Food Safari", a Council initiative to share our multiculturalism at the Belmont Hub. They invited me to join them at one of their weekly meetings in Redcliffe, to meet their members and find out what they are all about.

The Afghan Young Leaders came about when the Afghan migrant community came together and realised that many of their children were having difficulties. They felt their children were being caught between the two cultures and didn’t really know how to fit into their new society and friendship groups, while maintaining respect for their parent’s cultural norms, meeting family expectations and responsibilities.

Maria Aziz, the founder and Chairperson of the group, came out to Australia with her family as a teenager in 1988, as the Russians moved into Afghanistan. She has lived here now for 34 years, married, and had her children here. She looks back on her teenage years now and realises that the difficulties she had then are the same ones the teenagers are having now. She admmitted she was a rebel, and her parents were scared of the new country. She wanted to fit in with her friends, but her parents wanted to keep her safe. It was unknown territory for her back then, just as it is with their youth today.

Similar lived experience and a counselling degree means that Maria is in a position to assist new migrants and refugees from Afghanistan navigate some of the difficulties and pitfalls that come with such an enormous cultural and physical shift. This is how their group came about, and it seeks to help everyone learn and thrive in Australia.

Looking back at the ongoing troubles in Afghanistan, Maria says that we wouldn’t have known the country of her birth back in the 60s and 70s. “It was like any western society. We were rich and successful, our cities were like anywhere else, “ she said.

But of course it has changed since then, and I asked why.

“We didn’t stand together against evil,” she explained. “We were too focused on doing well as individuals, and we forgot that we need to be united against harm and danger. The things that cause difficulties and grief for other people, also affect us.”

That morning I spoke to many Afghan women, who were all enjoying speaking in their languages of Dari and Pashto, the two official languages of Afghanistan. When they get together they build their community bonds, and they share skills and they share food together. This group started in 2016, to assist newly arrived refugees, with English conversation classes, but now it is women gathering, building their confidence and self esteem. They learn coping mechanisms from those who have had similar life experiences, those who understand the trauma, because they have been there too.

Next year the Afghan Young Leaders will be holding an intensive education program to help these women get ready for the workforce. They have classes for health and wellbeing, women’s health, nutrition, first aid, and skills like sewing classes, so that they can start their own small businesses. The courses will run for 7 months, two days per week, in Belmont. For more information about this, contact Maria Aziz 0434 204 422 or email

Afghan young leaders, afghan refugee, afghan dance
Marwa Masiqe in traditional dress.

Maria Aziz and her daughter Marwa Wasiqe. (Photo City of Belmont)

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