At an indoor pool in a western Sydney suburb, about 20 Afghan women (recently refugees in Australia) listen to former asylum seeker Mariam Zahid give them swimming lessons and talk about the country’s beach culture.
Zahid came to Australia from Afghanistan 22 years ago and said her sessions help women develop “an identity of their own” and deal with the trauma of war in their home country.
“It’s something that affects the psychological and emotional aspects of their lives,” said Zahid at the Ruth Evros Aquatic Center in Auburn. “They have the identity of being human first.”
“We create memories for them, memories of freedom, joy and opportunity,” he added.
Zahid’s “Afghan Women’s Movement” program also helps refugee women, many of whom fled after the hardline Taliban returned to power, to help them learn to drive and find work.
Zahid believes women should not return to Afghanistan, where the government has severely restricted the rights of women and girls. For example, girls are prevented from going to secondary school. Currently, 23-year-old Sahar Azisi is taking his second driving lesson on the busy streets of Sydney’s suburbs.
“I decided to start my studies and drive my car rather than sit at home forever worrying about the dire situation in Afghanistan,” said Azizi, who arrived in Australia a year ago with her husband and one-month-old baby.
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