As a civil engineer in Afghanistan, Romal Baluchzada built infrastructure. In Australia, he’s building community networks.
Arriving in 2010, Romal now supports refugees and people seeking asylum, and in 2016 received one of the not-for-profit sector’s highest accolades, taking out the top spot on Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25 list of influential figures.
A team leader in Settlement Services International’s Humanitarian Settlement Services program, Romal advocates for refugee rights and supports new arrivals settling into Australia.
Outside work you’ll find him fighting child marriages and, until recently, running his own community radio program Khurasaan Zamin focused on Australian law and human rights. Since arriving in Australia, he has been interviewed by both Australian and Afghani media organisations to provide commentary on human rights issues.
Romal said his experiences coming to Australia as a new migrant were confronting.
“It was really challenging for me coming to a new country with new culture, new people and new language,” Romal said.
“Back home, with my qualification and my experience, I was very settled. I worked for the Afghanistan Government’s Ministry of Public Works, and was a project manager of key road and railway projects in charge of a budget of $400 million.
“When I came to Australia, unfortunately none of my qualifications were recognised so that presented huge challenges. That’s why I had to start again from scratch.”
While still in Afghanistan, Romal had started working in human rights with different community groups and decided to follow this path in Australia.
“I decided to leave the mathematical issues [of engineering] aside and to work solving community issues. I had a passion for working with human rights and when I came to Australia and I faced those challenges, I decided to follow my right passion.
“I established my community radio program, I started working as a human rights activist and tried to build a new career for myself in the social and community field.
“I think this work is harder because we work with the feelings of the people, but I know how important the community is now and that’s why I want to make sure I make a contribution and build a positive community for our kids.”
“My master’s will help me to give more to the community. I really want to contribute more in community leadership in the future and my long-term goal is to get my PhD in the human services area as well. That’s my goal for 10 years from now. I always set goals for myself.”
Romal said he was surprised to be named at the top of Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25 list.
“I was nominated in 2015 as well and I came number four among 25 winners. In 2016, I came on top of the list. It was quite surprising for me that I came at the top as there were a lot of good people, very well-known people, on the list [including Rosie Batty, Tim Costello, Penny Wong and Julian Burnside AO QC]. It was quite surprising and I really feel proud.
“People nominate you when they can see or feel your activities have contributed to positive changes in the community. Since I came to Australia, I’ve been involved in a lot of activities for the community. For example, my radio program and participating in different activities for human rights, refugee rights, asylum seeker rights and child rights.
“I’m also active on social media. I have a lot of followers and I’m writing different topics about the community and how we can contribute to positive change. I guess these activities all come together to help me to the top of that list.”
Romal attributes his community involvement to a feeling of social responsibility.
“If you’re part of the Australian community, using the free healthcare and using the good facilities within the community, you are also responsible to give something back.
“Part of that comes from growing up in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, since even my father was born, it was always war and no security. We had challenging lives. When I came to Australia I experienced a lot of disappointment because I had good qualifications and good knowledge and no one was there to help me, at least to look at my résumé and offer me a job.
“That gave me a sense of how hard and how challenging life can be as a new arrival. When I was a bit established in Australia, I thought that I would share my experience with the community, especially with new arrivals, to give them a sense that it doesn’t matter if you come to a new country, still you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.”
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