Sarah Yahya was born in Iraq into a family of the minority ethnic-religious group – Mandaean. The Mandaean people were violently persecuted against in Iraq since before she was born.
When she was six her mother received an anonymous note warning her that her family was in danger and they should flee.
In the dead of the night she fled on 12-hour journey across the border to Jordan with her mother and sister. She would later find out that the note was from her father, who was imprisoned because he opposed Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Seven years in Jordan, facing heavy discrimination
Her family spent seven years in Jordan, where they led a seemingly normal life, however Sarah’s mother got a job and so Sarah had to spend a lot of time looking after her sister, Sally. Her family’s problems did not end there, within the seven years she spent in Jordan she faced heavy discrimination from the local community and faced economic struggles.
Sarah’s family was finally granted humanitarian visas to Australia after a long seven-year wait. Once settled in Australia it was discovered she was hearing impaired and had been her entire life, she also found out that she was significantly behind in school in comparison to Australian children. Eventually, her father was also able to join the rest of her family in Australia.
Sarah also began to face numerous mental issues once settled. Her mother had kept her ethnic identity of Mandaean a secret from them in order to protect them from persecution. Sarah struggled to come to grips with who she was and faced identity issues.
Volunteering within her community
Despite these difficulties, Sarah worked very hard at school and spent all of her spare time reading, in order to learn in spite of her disability. She started to volunteer within her community. She now studies Journalism and International Relations at UTS. In early 2016 she became a representative at the UTS student council being a strong advocate for refugee issues.
She also became heavily involved with the Mandaean community and spent much of her time volunteering. She was awarded for her hard work, becoming a recipient of Rotary International’s Annual Youth Awards in 2013 and the Young Citizen of the Year 2015. She was awarded the High Order of Australia for Community Service in 2013.
ChilOut Youth ambassador in 2015
She also sought to help other refugees, by becoming a ChilOut Youth ambassador in 2015. Where she visited high schools across Sydney educating student on refugee issues and also being a key speaker at a refugee rally in front of Parliament House. She was also a youth ambassador for MYAN and she was a representative to the Refugee Summit hosted in Geneva by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
This however does not come close to covering the long list of achievements Sarah has made and it is truly remarkable that someone who has come from a disadvantaged background was able to give back so profoundly to the Australian community.
BA/BCom (Macquarie University)