Meet Shamsiya, an 18-year-old Australian, scholarship winner, school dux, hopeful future foreign correspondent and refugee.

Shamsiya Mohammadi is looking forward to voting for the first time in her life.

The 18 year old Adelaide woman doesn’t yet know who she will vote for, but it will be a fairly straightforward process compared to what she might expect in Afghanistan, where she was born.

Women can vote there. These days they can stand for office and be elected, but safe to say it’s not necessarily the calm and orderly experience Australians expect.

Shamsiya arrived in Australia as a refugee.

“A few years after I was born my father had to flee because of the Taliban regime. We had to go to Pakistan. He went to Pakistan first but my family went soon after.”

Shamsiya stayed there until she was 9 years old.

“When I was three, my father had to come to Australia in 2001.” Shamsiya’s father come to Australia by boat.

“In Afghanistan it was all peaceful before the Taliban arrived. But after that my Dad got threats from the Taliban and we had to flee our homeland… That’s why we fled to Pakistan.

“We had to wait until the end of 2006 before the rest of my family could come. And so we came here in November 2006.”

"After that my Dad got threats from the Taliban and we had to flee our homeland." Image supplied.

Initially, Shamsiya and her family lived in Renmark, in rural South Australia. Her father picked fruit to earn a living and Shamsiya, with little English navigated primary school in a small town that hadn't seen many people who weren't white.


"To be honest when I first came here I just felt really lucky to be in Australia and to have an education, to be able to study and to be with my father again. Back then I didn't really take note of all the racism and all that stuff that we had to face.

"There wasn't much understanding about people from different backgrounds. It was really difficult to go through primary school without speaking any English, with the cultural difference as well. People couldn't really understand that.

"But it wasn't until a few years after that more Afghan families started to arrive in Renmark and people became less racist. But in the beginning there was a lot of racism."

The family moved to Adelaide four years later.

Last year, Shamsiya graduated from school as College Dux and with the Maths Applications Award, Information Processing & Publishing Award and the Australian Defence Force Longtan Teamwork and Leadership Award. Image supplied.

"After we moved to Adelaide I realised that Adelaide and Renmark have huge differences. Renmark is a small town it wasn't very multicultural and when we got there, there were only a few Afghan families living in Renmark."

The quality of the Australian political debate, or lack thereof when it comes to refugees and race issues, isn't lost on Shamsiya, a quietly spoken but articulate and clever young woman.


"It definitely affects myself and my family."

"All the refugees I've met, and my family and myself, We come here and we are so grateful to be given the opportunity just to be here, and to have an education.

"We flee our countries from persecution. We come here for a better life. So when we are given that opportunity we want to give back to the nation in every way we can, and whatever is in our pwoer. We want to do good in this country.

"It really gets to us when political debates don't see that and they don't see that all refugees want the same thing. They want the opportunity for a better life."

Anyone who has spoken with Shamsiya can tell straight away she's serious about that, and that she has the potential to fulfil any dream she might care to pursue.

The young girl who arrived in Australia having never been to an English speaking school was last year awarded a Charles Hawker Scholarship to attend university.

"I want to be a foreign correspondent." Shamsiya is presented with the Charles Hawker Memorial Scholarship by former Governor-General Michael Jeffery. Image supplied.

"It's a national scholarship. It's given to high school and undergraduate students for their personal qualities and academic achievements.


"I finished Year 12 last year. I was the dux of college when I graduated, and that's how afterwards I applied for the scholarship."

In order to win the scholarship, Shamsiya had to go through a grueling round of interviews. She, along with four other young Australian students, was awarded the scholarship in Canberra last year.

"I'm at the University of South Australia and I'm doing a double degree in journalism and international relations. I want to be a foreign correspondent."

Shamsiya wants to go back to Afghanistan and help tell the stories of women and children.

"I feel like the voices of people back there need to be heard.

"Women and children don't have the opportunities, they don't have the services or the opportunities like people in western countries like Australia do."

"There is a lack of awareness about the issues they face. Even in the community themselves."

This week is Refugee Week, an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of refugees to Australian life.

The Refugee Council of Australia has chosen “With courage let us all combine” as the theme for Refugee Week in Australia for 2015 to 2017.

From their website; "Taken from the second verse of the national anthem, the theme celebrates the courage of refugees and of people who speak out against persecution and injustice."


"To be honest when I first came here I just felt really lucky to be in Australia and to have an education, to be able to study and to be with my father again." Image supplied.

It's also a chance to highlight the work of refugee advocacy organisations, places like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, and an organisation that Shamsiya is connected with, Welcome to Australia.

Welcome to Australia exists to engage everyday Australians in the task of cultivating a culture of welcome in our nation.

They say, "The Australia we love is known for its diversity, compassion, generosity and commitment to giving all people a fair go.

"We’d like to find many different ways that individuals, families, businesses and other organisations can work together to continue to develop these values in our communities, work places, schools and institutions."

Shamsiya finishes our conversation, reminding me that "No one chooses where they are born. No one chooses which family, which nation, which political situation they're born in.

"We want to give back to the community as much as we can."

For more information about Welcome to Australia, you can follow them on Facebook, or Twitter. To support their work, you can make a donation here.