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Community leader and volunteer is ‘Woman of Impact’

8 March 20240 comments

A Syrian refugee who overcame war, persecution and displacement to become a key leader and bulwark of her community is the inaugural ‘AMES Australia Woman of Impact’.

Norma Medawar arrived in Australia as a refugee in 2015 seeking safety and a chance to rebuild her life after fleeing the civil war in Syria.

Norma Medawar

With a high level of English, Norma settled in quickly in her new home and, despite the war trauma and experiences she suffered, has integrated into the Australian way of life.

Soon after her arrival, Norma began supporting other Syrian refugees in their resettlement journeys in Melbourne.

She studied an advanced Diploma in Interpreting and Translating (NAATI accredited qualification). She worked as interpreter and Education Support Officer for two years before finding her passion for working in the community service sector. She has now been working in the community service sector for seven years. In both professional and volunteer capacities, Norma has provided invaluable leadership and capacity building for Arabic-speaking women in Melbourne’s north.

In 2015, soon after her arrival in Australia Norma started volunteering at refugee and migrant settlement agency AMES Australia as an English tutor supporting help Arabic-speaking refugee students to learn English and navigate life in Australia inside and outside the classroom.

She has worked at Whittlesea Community Connections since 2017, assisting newly arrived migrant and refugee people to resettle in Australia and advocating on their behalf at network meetings with mainstream service providers. Norma also coordinated and facilitated a Syrian refugee group and a weekly youth group. Norma has made huge differences to many refugee people and helped them to resettle and start life from scratch.  

Norma is passionate about helping refugees not only through her work but also as a volunteer outside working hours and on a weekends by helping refugees with preparing their resumes and upskilling them on how to find work. She has also assisted many to secure job opportunities through her wide network. Norma also assists newly-arrived Arabic-speaking people in preparing for their citizenship tests.

In 2019, Norma established the Zenobia Association. The purpose of the group is to empower, support, refer and advocate for newly arrived women to take their full place in society and achieve their social and economic goals. The group meets regularly and delivers information sessions to help women navigate life in Australia, access services and feel connected. It runs art classes for women and children, swimming classes for women to spread the awareness about water safety.

The association, led by Norma, has facilitated many social and cultural events that have been open to the broader community and thus fostering cross-community connections while promoting Syrian culture. Apart from her Zenobia activities, Norma runs citizenship classes every Saturday to help newly arrivals learn more about Australian history, law and values .

In 2016, while volunteering at AMES Australia Norma was instrumental in starting a magazine called “Beloved Syria”.

The aim of the magazine was to help the Australian community to better understand the Syrian community and its culture and traditions. This led to Norma being invited to deliver cross-cultural training sessions to service providers, informing them about Syrians and their culture and refugee experiences as well as heir positive contributions to Australian society.

Norma is extremely concerned for the welfare of refugee women in Melbourne’s North of Arabic speaking background. In particular, she is very keen to ensure that these women forge a life for themselves that allows them to reach their maximum potential and achieve social and economic participation. To this end, she constantly looks to forge relationships with service providers who are able to support her clients in a respectful and meaningful way.

In many Arabic-speaking households, the men go out to work and the woman are left at home at risk of feeling isolated. In a voluntary capacity, Norma has strived to provide opportunities for women to connect with each other and take part in community events.

Through her volunteer work and through the Zenobia Association, Norma has facilitated events such as visits to libraries and museums, art exhibitions, gatherings at restaurants and cafes and more. Norma has recruited a cohort of people from the mainstream community to become part of Zenobia and share their knowledge and experience with newly arrived refugees.    

The AMES ‘Australia Woman of Impact’ award recognises women from newly arrived migrant and refugee communities who are supporting individuals and communities to build successful lives in Australia.

The award recognises people who go above and beyond the call of duty make differences in lives of people striving to establish themselves in Australia.

It values the impact that volunteering and strengths-based capacity building can have on individuals and communities; as well as the importance of fostering connections within and between diverse communities in Australia.