A Tale of struggle, compassion and triumph
Words by Khwezi Nkwanyana & Melanie Groves
Interview: Saba Abraham
Eleanor Roosevelt was quoted saying “beautiful [aged] people are works of art”. In my mind, no one embodies that better than Saba Abraham. The Eritrean born social-enterprise founder has dedicated her life to integrating female foreign migrants – often refugees from war torn countries- into everyday Australian life. Her tale of struggle, compassion and triumph is truly inspiring.
Sibwannan Magazine was lucky enough to spend some time with Saba talking about her cultural background and her social-enterprise, Mu’ooz, located in West End, Brisbane.
Hello Saba. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Hello! I was born and raised in Eritrea, during a time of a lot of politically instability and civil unrest. I grew up in a big family; there were ten of us all together. I was the only daughter out of eight children, which I am grateful for as it has made me the women I am today. My parents and brothers always treated me as an equal; this is very uncommon for women in my home country. Usually women are expected to just be a mother and wife; women couldn’t be teachers, doctors, lawyers or anything else, they were only raised to be good wives. However, I was lucky enough to be taught to aspire for my own future, outside the traditional cultural norms.
What brought you here to Brisbane?
I was a freedom fighter back in Eritrea during the civil unrest. When the political group I was in lost to another one, it was very unsafe for me to stay in Eritrea. So I moved to Sudan as a political refugee. As you probably know, Sudan is also struggling with a lot of civil unrest and it was dangerous for me to stay there. I moved to Cairo, Egypt, next (again as a political refugee); however, because of my political history, Egypt was not safe for me and my daughter to stay long-term. I decided that coming here to Australia would be the best opportunity for my child and me to have a fresh start and live happily.
How was your experience initially when you arrived in Brisbane?
I had a lot of fears before I arrived here. I knew moving countries would be hard: the change of lifestyle, language barriers, and having no friends or family here was a big concern. But once I arrived at the airport, a women greeted me with by saying “hello Saba, welcome to Australia”. I felt so welcomed and at home! I didn’t know how she could possibly know my name as I did not understand the immigration process at the time. However, her greeting and hug made me feel like I was at home. Whilst I was here, I received a lot of support from the government and people around me; for me, Australia was heaven on earth.
Tell us about your social enterprise: how did it begin and what was your inspiration for creating it?
When I came here, I met with a group of refugees and we wanted to do something so we could gain economic and social independence. Some of the women had never crossed the city, as they spoke no English and did not know how to get around. Because of this, a lot of women were very depressed. Often their husbands couldn’t find jobs and they felt very helpless. Something all the women could do is cook, even if they had no other skills. We formed the Eritrean Australian Women’s and Family Support Network Inc Association, and started cooking food to sell at festivals. We expanded to doing catering for newly arrived refugees. Then we started working on completing certificate training in hospitality. In 2008 we first opened our restaurant Mu’ooz in Moorooka. Now Mu’ooz provides trainee-ships and employment for African refugee women, helping them practice their English and learn marketable skills.
“We have now given training, employment and work experience to over 70 women”
Working at Mu’ooz gives these women confidence and empowerment. A lot of these women suffered from traumatic experiences so new opportunities in their new country help the healing process. We have now given training, employment and work experience to over 70 women. It is very important the women gain this work experience so they have some skills and experience to go out and be empowered and active members of society.
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