What does it mean to belong? Why are some types of hair, some skin colours, some heights, features, voices and languages more accepted than others? Why are only some refugees and travellers accepted into countries with barely a stamp on their passport, while others are held up and questioned intently because of their ‘otherness’. Something as simple as a surname or the amount of melanin in their skin, their circumstances, their choice of attire, can make them seem out of place. What does it mean to belong and to not belong at all? Who gets to decide?
Meet Fadak Alfayadh, the woman taking a conversation designed to segregate and alienate - the conversation of 'belonging' - and turning it into a conversation of hope, unity, equality, shared identity and future. There is no ‘us and them’, no ‘some of us’, no separation – just us, all of us, and what that means in Australia.
Fadak’s journey began when she was just 10 years old, when her family life was torn apart during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The horrors witnessed not only by Fadak as a child, but by her family, her friends and the wider community turned their lives upside down. 'Growing up, I saw my mother stand up to men in army uniforms who had the power to torture and kill her on the spot without any repercussions. I witnessed my father stand up to the dictatorship and refuse to take part in bloodshed.'
The Alfayadh family had little choice but to leave their home and seek asylum abroad for the simple human right of safety. Fadak’s family moved to Australia to begin a new life, a life in a country they’d never been to. Speaking no English at the time, the Alfayadh family settled in Dandenong. 'I was embraced and supported to become the woman I am today. I was warmly welcomed into the community, which made the loss of family, friends and community back in Iraq a lot more bearable.'
Fadak continued her studies and went on to gain her tertiary qualifications in law. Now as a grown woman, Fadak is a community lawyer and an advocate for refugee rights, working toward raising awareness about understanding and togetherness in Australia. With human rights crises occurring all around us, from the Nauru atrocities to decades of Indigenous displacement, to everyday stereotypes, Fadak is taking a stand to speak out from the perspective of someone who has been in an asylum-seeker’s shoes, and to act as an advocate for those who simply aren’t being heard.
'It is about time that we had a treaty with our Indigenous people. It is about time that we recognised that we are mostly an immigration nation and it is about time that we got rid of the remnants of the White Australia policy from our present and our future.'
This thinking, passion and readiness to create a change lead to Meet Fadak - Road to Refuge, which is her movement and a volunteer-based group who run engaging and creative community events, with equality and community at the heart. Fadak’s compassion, knowledge and personal experience has led her to fight for refugee rights, asylum seekers and anyone facing discrimination. Encouraging wider cultural understanding and more positive and compassionate discourse to form between people who have been misinformed and indoctrinated into the ‘us vs. them’ school of thought through the media.
Fadak’s passion has led her across Australia, where she spoke with people along the way who were both born here and who migrated here to make a new home. Her intention is to spread awareness and encourage people to question and unlearn problematic things that we’ve been told to be true. 'As a nation and as a community, we need to take a good look at ourselves and reassess our identity. Who do we want to be perceived as? Where do we want to go from here? What values do we want to uphold?'
These questions are circulating more and more throughout Australia and Fadak is encouraging people to stop turning a blind eye and to take action instead. What’s next for Meet Fadak? From the beginning of her journey until now, Fadak conquered the TED stage, built a name for herself as a lawyer, travelled Australia giving talks, stood outside government headquarters and protested and has set up her mission, Meet Fadak. Where will her vision lead to next?
'I am due to launch a documentary in 2019 that will be shown around Australia. I will be speaking about my story and what inspired me to go on this journey to meet every Australian. I will also be introducing people who have met me, who will really highlight the extent to which telling a story so honestly and powerfully can change the course of history.'
Be sure to follow the big things Fadak is doing as her movement continues to flourish. To learn more about Meet Fadak, visit fadakalfayadh.com, or follow her on Twitter at @AlFadak, Instagram @MeetFadak and Facebook @RoadtoRefuge.