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Sadaf finds hope in unexpected places

31 October 2021

Sadaf finds hope in unexpected places

Having fled from Iran to Australia nine years ago, Sadaf is praying for a miracle so she can complete her medical studies.

Words Jessica Morris

When I met Sadaf at Moonee Valley Salvos in Melbourne, it was clear there was a depth to this 21-year-old you usually only saw in people triple her age. Once I heard her story, I realised what makes Sadaf so unique – it’s a God-given tenacity developed in the face of unimaginable adversity.

Sadaf became a Christian in 2019 after being raised in the Islamic religion. She was introduced to Jesus after her mother, Ayda (see Salvos Magazine 23 October 2021) asked a Salvation Army officer (pastor) for prayer.

“Growing up in Iran, I worked hard to get good marks at school, and I actually found peace in studying and playing my sport [taekwondo],” Sadaf told me. “But often, when I got good results, or I was about to get an award, things would be taken away from me because my parents didn’t share the same values as the government. So, one day, when my parents said, ‘This isn’t working out anymore, we’re in danger,’ I didn’t really understand why [we were leaving Iran]. I was just happy that we were going.”

Sadaf was 13 when she, her parents and two siblings left Iran secretly to board a boat bound for Australia. I didn’t know much about the 10-day journey, but when Sadaf said, “At some point, I just accepted that we were going to die,” I knew enough.

Arriving in Australia

The family arrived in Australia in early 2013. By the time Sadaf and her family were settled in Melbourne a month later, her education was already thriving. She spent six months learning English at a local language centre and was ready to enter high school. After passing an entrance exam, she received a scholarship to attend a girls school in Melbourne. Sadaf had a future.

“I finally felt like I was free, and that was amazing. And I was allowed to take off the scarf I was forced to wear for such a long time. It felt so weird having that choice,” she said.

Since Sadaf entered the Australian education system, she has soared above what any proud parent could wish for. But behind the scenes, the struggle to set up her life took its toll mentally.

“My routine was wake up in the morning, walk to the station, go to school, come back home, sit down, cry for a couple of hours and then study more English. And I think it was the most tiring, frustrating, and lonely part of the experience because I couldn’t really describe that to my parents – no one else in my family was in that environment,” she said.

For school tests, Sadaf would memorise each answer letter by letter. Her teachers spotted her potential, encouraging her to pursue a degree in medicine – her passion. By the time she was 17, she was ready to complete the UMAT entry exam, along with thousands of other Year 12 students across the country. But the day before the test, she found out she was ineligible due to her status as a refugee.

“It was like everything I tried hard for was gone,” she shares. “My hard work meant nothing at all.” To create a future for herself, Sadaf poured hours into scholarship applications, eventually receiving a humanitarian scholarship at Monash University that would cover the full cost of her Bachelor of Science, majoring in Immunology.

“There is not much I can do after this because my visa limits me from applying for further study unless I cover the full cost. And I just got into this dark, dark hole,” Sadaf says.

An internal battle

Mental illness isn’t rare in people who have bravely immigrated to Australia in search of safety. With no access to government support, they are limited in what jobs they can apply for and have little to no means of accessing mental, physical, and social supports.

Miraculously, Sadaf’s scholarship was extended another year, allowing her to complete her Honours year. Largely due to her excellent results, tenacity and the unbridled support of her professors, the scholarship means that in 2021, she has been able to specialise in neuroscience at the Alfred Centre.

Experiencing hope

While the future is still uncertain, Sadaf’s faith gives her a sense of hope.

“I believe in Jesus now because doors open, and hope keeps coming, and I see my parents happy. People say, ‘Do you want us to pray for you?’ And when they do pray, good things happen. It can’t be a coincidence.”

 

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