Despite losing their home, money and everything they owned in war-torn Iraq, the Ibrahim family say what they found in a welcoming Catholic community in Sydney’s south-west has proved far more valuable.
Just over 12 months on from fleeing persecution from ISIS, the young family are so appreciative of the assistance they and their children have received from Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary school in Fairfield that for the first time in their lives they go to sleep at night knowing they are safe – something they admit money cannot buy.
Seven-year-old Alan, her younger sister Elin, 4 and parents Lina and Firas have settled into the local community, which has taken in 73 refugee students, mostly from the Middle East, over the past 18 months.
When she first started at the school, Alan couldn’t speak a word of English. Now in Year 2, she is proficient.
“Alan is a prime example of how successful the children who come to Our Lady of the Rosary are, how quickly they settle and how quickly they become part of the school community,” Principal Br Nicholas Harsas said.
“Some children come with trauma and we make sure we have social workers, staff and a counsellor helping them. We look at each individual and do all we can do to support them.
The little girl known for her contagious smile said her teacher, Mrs Moritz, had helped make school the best part of her new life in Australia because she is “nice and kind”.
Alan’s mother Lina says they are just so grateful to be able to give their children a new life in such a happy and welcoming atmosphere.
“It’s the worst being a Christian in Iraq,” she said. “We had a very hard time there.
“I’m just happy that my girls are not experiencing and seeing what I saw. I just want them to love this country and take this country as their own.”
The family lived in Mosul, where ISIS occupied the houses of many locals, including Lina’s parents.She said her parents were told their lives would be in danger if they tried to return to their house. Her parents are currently in Jordan and have applied to come to Australia.
She said she has noticed a significant difference in her children since coming to Australia and especially in Alan since she started at Our Lady of the Rosary.
“They’re more independent,” she said. “Not afraid like before. They’ll speak their mind about anything.
“Initially it was hard for Alan because of the language but now she loves to go to school. She says ‘Come on Mum, we’ve got to go!’ They get up early, they don’t want to be late. They’re very excited to come to school.”
Alan’s favourite subject at school is religion – much to the delight of Br Harsas – and she enjoys “drawing a cross and writing about Jesus and God”.
Brother Haras says the success of Alan and Elin has been replicated many times in his school.
“It’s the pastoral care we provide in a good Christian environment,” he said.
“From Day One Alan always had a big smile on her face even though she might not have known what we were saying or doing.”