‘I was nothing’ – a refugee’s story

“I WAS NOTHING, I am nothing, and I will be nothing without the support of the wider community,” says Moshtagh Heidari, a 23-year-old refugee from Iran.

Moshtagh felt as though he had nothing to live for before he landed in Australia with his family in 2012, grateful to live in a land of opportunity here in Geelong. He looks at his situation as God’s given gift.

Moshtagh at the heart of Geelong. Image: Lionel Baker

“I can remember the second that I stepped out of the plane. It was the second that I realised I belong to this society,” he said.

“There was such a strong feeling, an atmosphere at my shoulders and it was saying, ‘Moshtagh, you belong to this society, because this place defines you as a citizen. My presence back in Iran was worthless, I was nothing. Coming to Australia was the best moment of my life. I was very grateful; it was a very different feeling.”

Despite having grown up in Iran with a good education, due to the circumstances, Moshtagh would no longer be able to continue with his schooling.

“It was all about education. The second that my dad realised his kids were not allowed to go to high school, or get a higher education, I could remember the moment that he just sat down on the floor and said, ‘I cannot just sit and do nothing for my kids. I have to do something.’ That was when my dad decided to apply for a country to migrate to,” said Moshtagh.

The process from application, to receiving the visas to move to Australia, took six months.

“I think we were lucky, we’re lucky to be here,” said Moshtagh.

His family of 10 was struggling financially in Iran, with his father suffering from medical conditions rendering him unable to work. Moshtagh and his younger brother were forced to work for the whole family to survive.

Moshtagh has since made Australia his home, grateful to be given opportunities from education, to politics, and taking up keynote speaking to share his story and give back to all those who have helped him along the way.

“The first speech that I did at Diversitat, was to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It was organised by Diversitat and the Geelong Chamber of Commerce. I was a keynote speaker at the event. I was nervous, but when I did my speech and watched it back on video. I thought, well, I’ve got something to say. So, let’s give it a go,” he said.

“That was the time I thought, ‘I’ve got the confidence and the motivation to approach people and to talk to them’. That’s what it was all about for me; telling my stories to people, establishing connections with them, sharing my experiences and my thoughts about being a refugee.”

At this point in his interview with Dscribe, Moshtagh was interrupted momentarily as a woman he knew came over to say hi to him. The way she greeted him graciously and hugged him, showed the effect he has on people’s lives. The way he interacts with them means he puts the spotlight on them rather than himself, despite his interest in being in the public eye.

“It was my childhood dream to be a politician. At the dinner table, whenever I talked about news or policies, about politicians or International affairs – my younger brother would ask, ‘Moshtagh, why are you always talking about these things?’ ‘It’s part of my life,’ I would say. I really like to gain more knowledge and experience about how the system works, how International relations works, how society works; that’s how you can feel a connection to your community.

“You cannot just sit down and do nothing, and say, ‘I have nothing do with politics.’ Politics plays an everyday role within our lives, and that’s why I’d like to inspire young people to get involved with public affairs; so they can make a contribution in helping Australia to be an even better place for everyone to live,” said Moshtagh.

“I really love these flags,” said Moshtagh. Image: Lionel Baker

Moshtagh now studies a double degree in Law and International Relations at La Trobe University, though it was his experience having completed year 11 and 12 at North Geelong Secondary College that has stuck with him as his motivation to strive to achieve.

“There were so many times that I was struggling, and I had no place to refer to. But at the end of the day I just felt that NGSC was my second home. I could count on the support of the staff and students to help me, they were there for me,” he said.

“They just changed my life profoundly, and for everything they have done for me, they never asked for a thank you. That’s something that inspired and amazed me. It has motivated me to work harder. Mr Adamou, said, ‘Moshtagh, I did nothing. It was all about you. You did the job; we were just here to help you, to give you a hand, to show you the right direction,’” he said.

Moshtagh has taken with him the school’s views and values, which influence his daily actions. He said he owed his thanks to college Principal, Nick Adamou, for being his role model.

“Mr Adamou is one of the people that played an enormous contribution in making me who I am today. There were so many times I said to him directly, ‘Mr Adamou, thank you so much for the things that you have done for me, I owe you a lot. I owe the family of North Geelong Secondary College a lot,'” he said.

“I need to acknowledge the word ‘READ’ which played a very important role in my everyday school life. Respect, Excellence, Achievement, Diversity. That’s something that changed me.”

Stephanie McDonald, a teacher at North Geelong Secondary College, said that she feels privileged to get to know Moshtagh and be a part of his journey.

“I know a few people have said this, but I am so proud of you! You truly have great things ahead of you, and I’m so pleased to be able to say that I watched you develop in the time you were at NGSC; you really enriched the lives of everyone around you. I can’t wait to watch you achieve your dreams!” said Ms McDonald.

Moshtagh has wisdom beyond his years, he talks with grace and confidence, an air of innocence about him. It’s clear his experiences have shaped his life in a positive way, and it’s humbling to see someone so passionate and positive about wanting to make a change within the community.

“I’ve got this personal belief to myself, ‘Moshtagh, the second you realise you find out you’ve got experience –  when you’ve got the support of people, you’re ready to serve them; don’t think about it, don’t waste even a second, just be ready to serve your fellow Australians,’” he said.

Moshtagh has a keen interest for politics; he dedicates his spare time to attending functions, rallies and conferences, donating his time to causes that are close to his heart. He surrounds himself with like-minded people and politicians who share the same passions.

This year, Moshtagh was awarded the Kiwanis Club of Geelong Encouragement Award, and recently attended the International Rotary Youth Leadership Awards 2017, as he was nominated for an award.

“I’ve never ever claimed that any of my achievements belong to me. I don’t own them; they don’t belong to me,” he said.

“I believe that they belong to the generosity, and the kindness that I receive from the people of Geelong city and the wider community of Australia. Especially Australian taxpayers’ money.

“Investing on refugees, I think it’s a very critical investment. Helping them to learn the language, finding housing, employment and medical services. I just had the opportunity to be here, and I will never take them for granted. I’ll try my best to make a difference, and show to the wider community that, I’m thankful and I did not waste your time or your tax.”

Moshtagh is an inspiration and a role model for not only refugees but everyone in general. His persistence and mindset keep him grounded and every interaction or opportunity that comes his way he appreciates.

“I think it’s a personal satisfaction. It’s not always about getting. I think it’s always about giving back. I think giving back to the community, to me, gives me the most satisfaction. There are so many ways you can help your wider community as a person, just by working in retail or by being a lawyer or a politician,” he said.

“When I look back I see that there were so many things that I wasn’t able to do, and now I’ve got the opportunity and there are so many people out there willing to help me … Why shouldn’t I show the best version of myself? When you’re a refugee, you’ve got the hunger to succeed, you’ve got the hunger to strive to achieve, to show yourself, to prove yourself.”

Moshtagh hopes to become a lawyer and eventually make his way into politics.

This week, Moshtagh was proud to announce that he is now an Australian citizen.





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