Persistence pays off for refugee engineer
Mustafa Ayobi arrived as a refugee from Afghanistan as an 18-year old with no English, little formal education and knowing no one outside his immediate family.
This month, after 12 long and difficult years of work and study, Mustafa fulfilled a life-long ambition when he started his first job as an electrical engineer.
He is working for Melbourne’s Metro Trains designing and building electrical substations in what he says is his “dream job”.
Mustafa arrived from Afghanistan with his family in 2008 fleeing his homeland’s interminable conflicts.
He had reached safety but a formidable journey lay ahead.
“I studied English at AMES Australia’s Noble Park language school and then I went to Minaret College in Springvale,” Mustafa said.
“I was 18 but in Year 10. I had language barriers and it was really hard. All of the other kids in the class were younger but were doing more advanced work than me,” he said.
After Year 10 Mustafa and his family moved to Perth where completed Year 12 at Canning College. His family moved back to Melbourne after a year but Mustafa stayed to complete Year 12 and it was then that he met his wife Yalda.
“After Year 12 I was accepted into La Trobe University to study engineering,” Mustafa said.
“I was the first person in my family to go into higher education but now my younger brothers are following in my footsteps. I am proud to be a role model for them,” he said.
Mustafa faced challenges and barriers completing his degree; his friends and even his teachers tried to discourage him from following his dream.
“A lot of my friends told me to give up on school. They had jobs and new cars and tried to persuade me to join them and get factory work,” he said.
“And there were times when I was worn down and about to give up but luckily, I didn’t.”
Mustafa took six years to complete his degree, having to fit in part-time work to support his growing family; Mustafa and Yalda have two children – daughter Hafsah and son Habil.
“It was very hard juggling study with part time work and having kids but my dream was always to be an engineer,” he said
But even after Mustafa graduated things were no easier.
“After university, I spent 12 months looking for my first engineering job. It was devastating. Some of my friends even said ‘what was the point of all that study’,” he said.
Mustafa joined AMES Australia’s refugee support and mentoring programs where he was guided though the steps he needed to take, gaining knowledge of the engineering sector, resume writing and interview techniques.
“This was really helpful to me in understanding what it takes to land a job,” he said.
Four weeks ago Mustafa started his job at West Sunshine, in Melbourne’s west. He rises early each morning and makes the 50 kilometre journey from his home in Noble Park, in the city’s south east.
But he’s happy to put in the miles.
“My dream was always to be an engineer and now I’m living it. Sometimes even I can’t believe this has happened after all the difficulties I’ve faced,” Mustafa said.
“I came from a war torn country and lots of stuff was always being destroyed,” he said.
“I wanted to become an engineer to help make things better and be part of the country’s future development, especially in technological aspects.
“Coming to Australia and seeing how technologically advanced this country it is, inspired me more to chase that dream and become an engineer and contribute to Australia,” Mustafa said.
Mustafa’s drive to give back also sees him volunteer at Monash Health. He helps out with language translation and administration.
“I basically do anything that is needed. Now that I’m working it’s harder to volunteer but I’m still available some weekends if needed,” he said.
“I want to be helpful and give back to community that has helped me and my family. And I want to help people who are going through what I went through,” Mustafa said.
And he is keen to share his story among communities
“If I can inspire people through telling my story that would make me happy,” he said.
When not working Mustafa is mostly ferrying his kids to swimming, basketball and soccer.
As a young adult, he also had sporting dreams in martial arts.
“But studying, working part-time and having kids made that impossible. But still, I wouldn’t change anything. I am working as an engineer and that has always really been my dream,” Mustafa said.