WHEN Shamiran Merkhaal and her family fled Iraq because of persecution of their Christian faith, she could barely speak English.
Ten years later, Ms Merkhaal now teaches disadvantaged students in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
“I’ve been teaching for 11 months. It’s still new. I still have my bad days and my good days,” Ms Merkhaal said.
“I never thought I’d be a teacher.
“It was not a profession that I looked upon with respect. “
Ms Merkhaal grew up in Iraq before fleeing to Jordan in 2005, and ultimately arriving in Australia on a humanitarian visa in 2009.
“(School) was more of a dictatorship where the teacher would say something and you would follow it,” she said.
“If you do not, you would get punished.
“That was the idea of education.
“You would get hit literally anywhere for not doing the right thing.”
As a Chaldean Catholic, Ms Merkhaal’s native language is a form of Aramaic, but she had learned bits and pieces of English while at school in Jordan.
“I knew the alphabet and numbers but that was basically it,” she said.
“I would try to imagine what it would be like to have a conversation in English, but back then, I would never in a million years have imagined I would one day be fluent.”
Ms Merkhaal said her time in Jordan waiting for an Australian visa was a divine intervention of sorts – ultimately bringing her closer to the Church and closer to God.
“When I was in Jordan for five years it was obviously very hard to be in a situation where you didn’t know what was happening,” she said.
“There was a large unknown.
“There were a lot of people responsible for my case, and they determined if I would be granted the visa or not.
“Being closer to the Church gave us that reassurance and that faith that there was a God who has our back.
“Being alone in the country with no extended family was a very lonely feeling.
“Being at church, normally every day, and being so involved with the Church really gave us that sense of belonging.”
Ms Merkhaal and her family had escaped Iraq before the persecution of Christians intensified in the majority-Muslim population.
“It was just after the start of the war when we left, so the violence against our people was happening, but it was nowhere near as severe as it was say five or six years ago,” she said.
“The fact that we were Catholics made us an easier target, and that was the turning point for my dad.
“That’s when he decided to leave everything behind and go to a place where we would not be targeted, where we could believe what we believe without being persecuted.”
Ms Merkhaal graduated with a Bachelor of Education in September 2018 and was employed by a school in a low socio-economic area through the Australian Catholic University’s Catholic Teacher Education Consortium.