Refugee Week
Sarab Shada


My name is Sarab. I am a primary school teacher as well as an English language teacher for adults. I was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, but after years of journeying from country to country, my family and I resettled in Sydney in 2019.   

From a very young age, I made a very absolute and final decision that I would never become a teacher. This was largely due to my impressions about schools and our education system at a young age and unfortunately, the target of all my frustrations were teachers. At that time, I could not comprehend that scarcity ruled everything as we grew up under the sanctions. Teachers and schools were heavily affected by the lack of resources and support, and this translated to a system that did not encourage learning as much as it encouraged ‘surviving’ the educational journey. Our books, classrooms and conversations were governed by this struggle.

My views changed dramatically in 2011 when I received a scholarship to complete my bachelor’s degree in the US through the Iraqi Student Project, a program that assisted Iraqi students who could not complete their higher education in Iraq due to the on-going violence and lack of safety. Navigating the new education system in the US compelled me to reflect on my own education in Iraq and have a more developed understanding of the problems faced by our schools back home. It became clear to me in my first year of university that my frustrations stemmed from a passion in challenging education systems and a strong sense of curiosity about the process of learning. Once I realized that, I decided to become part of the solution and declared my major in education. 

While teaching is my passion, music and singing have been a constant presence in my life. As a child, singing was a window to a world of expression in terms of ideas and feelings that didn’t exist in the world around me. I took refuge and a sense of companionship in music and I still do to this day. Growing up in Iraq, there were no places for me to use my voice apart from the local church. So, I joined the church choir and sang with them for several years until my travels began.

The most meaningful musical experiences I have had to this day occurred while I was studying in the US. I discovered ways of using my voice to advocate, entertain, and inspire awareness. In their efforts to assist me with my financial needs, a support group was created with the Iraqi Student Project to plan for fundraising events, some of which were musical. This is where I began to use my voice to not only help fund my own education, but to bring awareness to others about our scholarship program and its meaningful impact on students like me. From there, I began singing English and Arabic songs in benefits organized by student organisations such as the Middle East Student Association at my university, as well as annual community-led non-for-profit events such as El Pueblo Canta, the Immigrant Justice benefits.  

Since arriving in Australia, I’ve completed my international certification as an English language teacher while going through the lengthy process of recognising my international degree. As for music, my sister and I joined the world during the Coronavirus pandemic by starting a Youtube channel and singing from our bedrooms; an activity that helped us both find some calm amid the chaos and reconnect with old friends.  

I am not certain about what awaits me in Australia, but I know that these past experiences have empowered me to have important conversations and go on more difficult journeys. I will continue to seek opportunities to make my voice heard through both education and music. 

You can book Sarab for a speaking presentation via our Face-to-Face program here.

Please note that speakers are confirmed once a booking has been made and will be based on their availability.

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