Riad doesn’t remember the exact date his family fled their home in the city of Al-Hasaka, Syria, nor the date they arrived in Lebanon. But the day he and his wife, Mary, arrived in Australia is a date that he easily recalls: Tuesday the 14th of October 2014.
Riad, an agricultural engineer, his wife Mary, an economics graduate, and their three kids have had to endure much more than your typical family. Because of the ongoing civil war that has torn their country apart, they were forced to flee in the middle of last year. From Al-Hassaka, in the North-East, they made their way to the coastal city of Tartus and then, like many other families displaced by the war, they crossed into to Lebanon in the hope of securing a humanitarian visa.
It was a long wait.
When they finally arrived in Australia they weren’t alone. Riad’s older brother had migrated to Australia ten years earlier and he helped them settle in. AMES (Adult Multicultural Education Services) was also a key support and helped their family find rental accommodation, sign up for English classes and get their children enrolled into school.
It was during one of Riad’s AMES classes that he first met Environment Victoria’s Future Powered Families team.
The Future Powered Families program trains parents in how to conduct a home energy assessment, and then supports them to assess the homes of families in their community and to teach them about home energy efficiency.
After the workshop at AMES, Riad signed up to volunteer with the program. As a volunteer, Riad has done many home energy assessments in his community, teaching parents about energy saving and showing them how their homes can be comfortable and energy efficient. For many of the households that Riad has visited, it was the first time that they learnt about how “simple ideas [can]…change habits at home”. From setting the heating thermostat, to opening the curtains to allow sunlight to heat the room, to switching off appliances at the power point, the Future Powered Families program has helped Riad, Mary and their immediate community to become empowered and take control of their energy use through conscious energy choices.
For Riad, the program has not only given him volunteering experience, but also an understanding of some of Australia’s environmental challenges. In Syria, water conservation is critical, as clean water is available only for at most one hour during the day or at worse, once in three weeks. He and many of the households he has visited now recognize that electricity and clean energy, in addition to water, is equally vital in Victoria. Riad believes that everyone needs to know how saving energy can help protect our environment, our cities and our world, for “[we all] live in the same place…we [all] share the same things”.
Riad and Mary fondly reminisce about their old life: the “memories, lifestyle, friends… everything”. Their oldest child is 9, and can still remember their old life, but their two younger children (7 and 2) are too young to remember life back home.
It has been difficult for Riad and Mary to adjust to their new life, but they are happy to be in Australia and safe from the civil war. Riad and Mary look forward to owning their first Australian home and solar panels, and they are looking forward to putting Riad’s green thumb to further use tending their vegie garden, and making new friends around the dinner table.