Marie Claire Australia
MARIAM VEISZADEH, 37
Mariam was four when her mother, Mari Zamiri, began the three-year journey from war-torn Afghanistan to Australia. Now, Mariam is a lawyer, human-rights champion and diversity and inclusion practitioner.
The first thing Mariam Veiszadeh remembers about arriving in Australia as a shy seven-year-old is the disparity between the haves and the have-nots, a gap made all the wider when you’re firmly rooted in the latter camp.
“I noticed all the other kids had nicer belongings, and as I grew up I became conscious of the fact we were poor. I was deeply embarrassed that we lived in social housing and that I didn’t have the right clothes, shoes or school lunches to help me fit in.”
Fortuitously, Mariam also eventually realised something far more important: while the material wealth they enjoyed in Afghanistan was long gone, moving to Australia meant she and her siblings had inadvertently become gatekeepers to a world of opportunities they never would have otherwise enjoyed.
It was, explains Mariam’s mother, Mari Zamiri, what she and her husband hoped for when they fled Afghanistan during the Soviet war and embarked on a three-year journey that took them to India, Germany and the Czech Republic before finally being granted asylum in Australia in 1991.
“It was a difficult journey with young children and the uncertainty made it even harder. I was most worried about what the future would hold for my children, whether they’d get access to education and be able to have a safe upbringing,” she explains. A life in Australia brought a sense of peace and serenity, she adds.
Growing up in Sydney’s west, Mariam was driven by a need to fight for social justice and to defend and advocate for those who don’t yet have a voice of their own. She studied hard to become a lawyer. “Education is the greatest equaliser,” she says. “When you have a background like mine, you feel a hunger to give everything your all and not waste a single opportunity, because you know better than anyone how rare those opportunities are in other countries.”
Over the years, Mariam has held multiple board positions, delivered a TEDx speech, founded the Islamophobia Register Australia and was featured as an Anti-Racism Champion by the Australian Human
Rights Commission. Last August, when Taliban forces once again took control of Afghanistan, Mariam began the harrowing process of helping to evacuate fellow Afghans out of the country. “I must have looked at hundreds of passport photos, and every so often I would have this feeling of ‘this could easily have been me’. If you have the capacity to do so, why wouldn’t you try to help others?”
As her mother Mari tells it, being raised in Australia gave her daughter a solid start on which to build. “Mariam had more access to education and opportunities to work in social justice,” she says. “I was hoping she would grow up to be able to give back to the country that gave us so much, and she has.”
There’s no doubt Mari is proud of Mariam’s achievements, but more than anything it’s clear she’s even happier that her daughter is a good person, just as she’d hoped.
“When you have a background like mine, you feel a hunger to give everything your all” – Mariam Veiszadeh