“At the traffic lights, go straight ahead. Please don’t rush,” she said.

“It’s school time now, so you need to slow down. So drive 35 kilometers an hour, please.”

Basma, 40, says that after about 10 lessons, her student is ready to take the next step.

“I teach her all about driving and she gets better with every lesson.”

“Now she is ready for her driving test. She’s so excited to do it.

Basma and her student are sitting in the car.

Driving instructor Basma Habash and one of his students. Source: SBS / Scott Cardwell

Obtaining a driver’s license will be a life-changing moment for the student, who is an Iraqi refugee, and will be another achievement for Basma, who only learned to drive in 2018.

Basma, who is also from Iraq, fled when her hometown of Mosul fell to the self-proclaimed Islamic State in 2014.

“We were very scared. We lost our jobs… and we lost our house. It was a very difficult time,” she says.

Basma had been a teacher of Christian religious studies in schools and was among an estimated 500,000 civilians who fled Mosul, flying to neighboring Jordan with her husband and son.

Basma and her family in Jordan

Basma with her husband Rabee Jindo and son Frans in Jordan. Source: SBS / Scott Cardwell

Now living in Melbourne and a mother of two, Basma graduated with a fourth transport and logistics certificate last July and has since helped dozens of people, some of whom are refugees, obtain their Victorian driving licenses through her driving business. driving instructor.

She says she likes to see her students gaining independence, especially the women.

“When women get their permit, they can go to a doctor’s appointment, to the mall or to visit their family. They can do everything by themselves.

“Driving also helps women find jobs, and for many refugee couples in Australia, both partners have to work because housing is expensive – everything is expensive.”

Language skills

As well as becoming a driving instructor, Basma, who speaks Arabic and Chaldean, has also completed her advanced English studies. She says fluency in English has been key to passing various driver training courses and growing her business.

“I hope to make my driving school a big business, a big school one day,” she says.

Her English skills improved through lessons with another Iraqi woman, Bushra Francis.

Basma with her teacher Bushra

Basma with her English teacher Bushra Francis. Source: SBS / Scott Cardwell

Bushra emigrated to Australia from the Kurdistan region of Iraq in the 1990s and they quickly formed a friendship based on their shared culture and love for teaching.

“I always thought I had a bigger purpose. And I always thought I could give a lot to those who suffered in their country and came here without hope,” says Bushra, 54.

Bushra Francis in the classroom

Bushra Francis is an English teacher in Melbourne. Source: SBS / Scott Cardwell

The former high school teacher earned two bachelor’s degrees in education as well as a master’s degree in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) and works full-time teaching English to migrants and refugees in the north from Melbourne.

In Iraq, Bushra’s family followed the Chaldean Catholic Church, a minority Christian group.

“We struggled a lot because my father was part of the opposition party that opposed Saddam Hussein’s regime,” she says.

“Under Saddam’s regime, people did not have the freedom to choose which party they wanted to follow.”

Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq from 1979 to 2003.

Bushra says her father was killed for his political activities in 1982, when he was 42.

“My mum then found herself in charge of three young children…so she worked very, very hard at two jobs until we all graduated from college.”

Bushra Francis has obtained several degrees

Bushra has several degrees. Credit: Provided Bushra Francis

Bushra trained as a physical education teacher in Iraq, but emigrated to Australia for better opportunities.

“At the time, my graduate salary was enough to buy a dozen eggs! she laughs.

She thinks learning to speak English is the hardest but most rewarding part of transitioning to a new life in Australia.

“Migrants all want to have a good life here, but without a language it’s impossible,” she says.

That’s why, over the past eight years, she’s helped hundreds of migrants and refugees become fluent through her own company, Endeavor Education Consulting.

Bushra teaches English in conjunction with the non-profit community organization Westgate Community Initiatives Group (WCIG), running full-time classes at a purpose-built venue in Roxburgh Park.

“Learning a language can be difficult because, for many, their past life and the traumas they have experienced – persecution or poverty.”

“I actually walked in their shoes. So that’s what drove me to do this work and to encourage other people who have been deprived of their rights and freedoms in their own country.

Elsa Debessa learns English

Elsa Debessa is learning English. Credit: SBS/Scott Cardwell

One of his students, 37-year-old Elsa Debessa, moved to Australia from Ethiopia as a teenager and is now raising her three young children on her own.

“I’m moved to talk about it,” she said of Bushra. “Because she’s not just my teacher. She knows how to help people. She knows how to defend people. »

“I’m looking for a job…and my teacher…she supports me.

“She doesn’t know how much she changed my life.”

Labor shortage

According to Associate Professor Betina Szkudlarek of the University of Sydney Business School, 80% of asylum seekers and refugees struggle to find work during their first two years in Australia.

Ms Szkudlarek emigrated from Poland 10 years ago and is conducting research with businesses across Australia, to define what employers need to hire more refugees.

Betina Szkudlarek from the University of Sydney

Betina Szkudlarek from the University of Sydney Source: SBS / Supplied Betina Szkudlarek

“Employers tell us they are very keen on employing refugees, but they want the process to be very simple,” she says.

“Some are ready to hire hundreds of refugees, while others are interested in one or two candidates.”

English training and mentoring other refugees, like Bushra, can be a crucial first step towards employment or entrepreneurship, she says.

Bushra Francis with two of her students

Bushra with two of her students. Source: SBS / Scott Cardwell

“Most refugees don’t understand local employment and the labor market, and the processes, the hiring processes. So to have someone who knows that, someone who’s been there to explain to them the differences they might see in their home country and here in Australia, that’s critical for refugees to be successful on the labor market.

Once refugees are settled into work, she says they have high productivity and low turnover. And as Australia reboots after the COVID-19 pandemic, she says hiring more refugees is also a win for employers.

“In many industries, Australia is in the midst of a labor shortage. At the same time, throughout the pandemic, many refugees have urgently sought work, but have not succeeded.

“Refugees are very determined to rebuild their lives in Australia. With this determination, commitment and these quite often extensive skills, they add value to employers of different types. »

She calls for additional funding for small nonprofit groups and social enterprises that connect refugees to the local job market.

Basma Habash standing in a park

Basma hopes to expand her business. Source: SBS / Scott Cardwell

“Most of the refugees who come here have absolutely no professional network. So having a group that connects them with those opportunities and opens doors for them is really essential for refugee employment.

In addition, many are on their own to use existing skills.

Basma is grateful to Bushra for helping her start a business and, in turn, Bushra is proud of her student and friend.

“Basma did an amazing job and I couldn’t be prouder. She achieved her dreams.

“I hope we will work together to set up his driving school in the next two years.”