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‘Humbled’: Community powering Sarmed Yassin after refugee award

Honoured: Mohammed (left) and Sarmed Yassin with Victorian Multicultural Commission chair Vivienne Nguyen on Monday night.

The notes Sarmed Yassin reads after his sessions normally have short statements on them, but the power in the handwriting belonging to Grade 5 and 6 students continues to astound him.

“I promise to always stand up for those that are being bullied or I'll make sure that people feel like they belong,” one reads.

“I make sure that if I see somebody that is being left out,” reads another.

“I will invite them to be involved.”

Mr Yassin, who gets the children to write the statements after a 90-to-120-minute session about racism, migration, and talking about the experience of people moving to Australia.

“The things that the kids are saying, it's just absolutely wonderful,’’ he said.

“That’s the highlight of the day, to be honest.’’

The program is called Harmony Champs, which has been running since term three last year, is one of the many community efforts which led to him being recognised with an achievement award at the Victorian Refugee Awards on Monday night in Melbourne.

Refugee Week – from June 19 to June 25 – is about celebrating the people who have come to Australia as refugees and have added to the country.

Mr Yassin is involved with the Lighthouse Project, the Ethnic Council, Greater Shepparton City Council and Culture and Co., which was founded by his brother and 2021 award winner Mohammed.

Mr Yassin said he and his brother entered community work at about the same time, with Mohammed walking away from PhD studies to be involved in the space full-time, eventually founding Culture and Co.

Special day: Victorian Multicultural Affairs Minister Ros Spence with Sarmed Yassin in Melbourne on Monday.

The school was one of the things which sparked Mr Yassin’s creation of Harmony Champs.

“There were racism issues at the high school, people having problems co-existing so we wanted to target younger audience and specifically those from smaller towns and held them learn,” he said.

"Some of those students only get exposed to cultural diversity once they move to high school.“

The pledges from 10 and 11-year-olds are special to Mr Yassin, who was about that age when he moved to Australia from Syria with his family.

Born in Iraq, the family fled Saddam Hussein’s rule across the Iranian border before moving to Syria.

Recognition: Sarmed Yassin proud as punch in Melbourne on Monday night.

After several years fearing for their safety in Syria, Mr Yassin’s father flew to Indonesia and got on a boat, spending 13 days on open water where two passengers died, before being rescued by Indonesian fishermen and brought back to Indonesia.

“People had a choice as to if they wanted to try again, and if you think about it not wanting to go again is the reasonable thing to do after witnessing death, but when being sent back to Iraq was the ultimate death, which was a very high chance for those like us living in Syria at the time,” Mr Yassin said.

“For that, my father realised ‘I’d rather try again and again and again until I make it, because we (the family) need to be safe’.”

After spending time in detention, it took three years for Mr Yassin’s father to apply to bring the rest of the family to Australia, where the family received overwhelming support from the Shepparton community on arrival.

“I wouldn’t be speaking to you right now if I didn’t get that support,” Mr Yassin said.

“People that don’t get that help end up being isolated, they end up being marginalised, and they end up feeling like they are angry and sad all the time.”

The love and support his family received inspired him, and still inspires him, even in the wake of a significant award for the mountains of work he puts into helping make sure everyone gets the chance he does.

“I was recognised but there are so many people out there that are doing amazing things locals even that have been doing this for 20-plus years, they deserve a lot of recognition as well,” he said.

“I guess I was just fortunate enough to have that recognition and I’m really humbled to be recognised, but I’m inspired every day by those that have done so much for the community.”