Our Stories

This section of our website tells OUR stories.

As a community of people from a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD)/ NESB with disability and families living in NSW we are very diverse, yet we share many similarities. We come from all parts of the globe and we have all types of disabilities. Some of us came as migrants, some of us as refugees and some of us were born here. Many of us speak another language and we have a multitude of different customs, traditions, beliefs and values. The values we share include our beliefs that we, people from a CALD/NESB with disability and our families, have the same rights and responsibilities as other people in the community and that our differences are as important as our similarities and that our human rights are inalienable.

If you would like to tell your story here please email us mdaa@mdaa.org.au

Walee’s Story

Walee Mir tells about his world in his poem “I Will survive”.

I Will Survive

Will I survive all the fights and darkness trouble sparks,
and tell me if home is where the heart is getting party,
I shed tattoo tears and couldn’t sleep good for multiple years,
witnessing kids catching gunshots and nobody cares,
see the politicians rant us,
I’d rather see us locked in change,
please explain why they can’t stand us,
is there a way for me to change,
or am I just a victim of things I didn’t maintain,
I need a place to rest my head with a little bit of home boys that remain,
cause all the rest are dead,
is there a spot for us to roll,
if you find it I’ll be right behind you and show me and I’ll go,
how can I be peaceful from coming from the bottom watch my daddy peace while man shot,
I need a house that’s full of love where I can escape the deadly places sellin’ drugs.

Walee Mir

Steven’s Story

I was born in Hungary under a socialist regime. I was able to leave by applying for a passport to travel to Greece as a tourist. I didn’t return home but applied for refugee status and after 6 months in a refugee camp in Greece I came to Australia in 1974 as a refugee.

stevenWhen I arrived in Australia I stayed in Villawood Immigration Centre, a hostel that helped new arrivals get started in Australia. You were free to come and go when you pleased. At night you could attend free English classes, we were given food and a small amount of pocket money. The maximum stay was 3 months and after that we had to find our own way.

When I left Hungary I decided to cut ties with my family. I was young, ambitious and determined to overcome any difficulties living in Australia. I wanted have a family and provide them with a better future filled with more opportunity. After settling in Australia I started my own business as a pastry chef, got married and had two sons. My sons and I are very close: they mean everything to me.

I live with my eldest son, my younger son lives just down the road.

Several years ago I had an accident at work and lost my eyesight and had to sell my business. Despite this I enjoy living in Australia. When I arrived I spoke very little English but people were friendly. I remember one day one of my work mates invited me to his house for ‘tea’. When I arrived I noticed he was setting the table and he said, “Come on, join us” and I said “Don’t worry about me, I’ve eaten. You have your dinner and we can have ‘tea’ afterwards”. I didn’t realise that ‘tea’ in Australia is another word for dinner. I thought he had invited me over for a cup of ‘tea’.

In Australia if you attempt to learn the language people respect and accept you more if you are able to get involved in conversation and community life. If you can communicate with people, they accept you. Australian society is very tolerant of people learning to speak the language and willing to give most people a ‘fair go’. If you are willing to participate and contribute Australia will provide you with numerous opportunities.

Steven Tarr

Rachel’s Story

I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. When I was 19, I had a retina detachment in my right eye. In those days it wasn’t as easy to reattach it and I lost all my vision in that eye.

rachaelIn Israel I studied nursing. At the end of my post graduate studies in paediatric nursing, I was shocked to discover I had retina detachment causing loss of sight in my right eye, but I was determined not to let this hold me back. Previously, my father was arrested by the communist government and wrongly accuse of being a Jewish spy. My mother had little choice but to migrate with me to Israel, leaving my father behind.

In Israel I grew up and studied nursing. I was a pediatric nurse and was inspired my Moshe Diyan, the Israeli chief of staff who also had one eye. After marrying and giving birth, I unfortunately had another detachment in the other eye. I was advised to fly to America for immediate surgery. The surgery restored some of my sight which was enough for me to be able to look after my son.

Life in Israel was very difficult due to ongoing wars. My husband and I decide to immigrate to South Africa. It was the only place we could get a visa but shortly after we realized it was as war torn as Israel. Thankfully we had contacts in Australia who helped us get a visa. We arrive in Australia as skilled migrants in 1982. I immediately fell in love with the Australian way of life. I loved the green landscapes, beautiful beaches and welcoming people. I also made contact with the Australian Jewish community who helped us settle.

My overseas qualifications as a registered nurse were not recognized in Australia and with limited English and visual impairment, I struggled to find work. I did however find employment as a nanny. My husband’s English was also very limited and he applied for many jobs before he was employed as a sales assistant. On our first day living in our rented apartment, we saw a sign in the foyer of the apartment block “Dogs and Jews are not allowed”.

In our first two years in Australia, I had two retina detachments, two cornea grafts on the remaining eye, three glaucoma operations and was left with 6% vision, classifying me as legally blind. Needless to say I kept my doctors on their toes. The subsequent pressures of my poor health and continual hospitalization, lack of extended family, no permanent employment for my husband and diminished finances led to marriage breakdown. I left my husband, with no money in my pocket or job.

I had to adjust to being a sole parent from a non-English speaking background with a disability. I decided the only way for me and my son to get ahead was to acquire another education. With TAFE support, I completed a Diploma in Social Welfare. That was only half the challenge, finding a job with limited sight proved even harder. Even for just work experience, many organisations were unwilling to take me on because of my visual impairment.

The Ethnic Child Care Centre gave me my first student placement and that led to grief support counseling which I conducted on the phone. This led to my first job at the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association in its infant stages. Luckily they were smart enough to see my strengths rather than my limitations. I was empowered and worked as an advocate for ten years. I lived a full life with the limited vision I had.

My greatest challenge came in 2002. While waiting for a train, I had an accident which left me with an above knee and below knee amputations. I paid a high price for never being a victim of my own disability and for my ongoing battle to keep the remaining sight I had. Despite the fact that the doctors said id never walk, I persisted and was able to walk. I also live with some degree on independence in my flat.

However, today I’m totally blind and have once again managed to readjust to having no visual cues. I fought hard to keep the vision I had for over 30 years and was lucky to have it for that long. Today, I am very focused on using my skills, experience and passion to help fight for the rights of people from a non-English speaking background with disability. I want to raise awareness in the community for our abilities and provide support for all people with disability. We can live rich and full lives like anyone else if we choose to and have the right support.

Rachel is an MDAA Chairperson.

Rachel Lazarov

Hannen’s Story

My name is Hannen and I have lived in Australia for 22 years, with my family – six sisters, one brother and my parents. I have a visual impairment and my family has been very supportive. With their help and the support of guide dogs I have been able to learn new things and get to the places I need to go to.

hannenLearning new things can be hard sometimes because I have to remember where everything is. Learning how to find places can also be hard because you have to learn all the street names and remember where they are.

I went to North Rocks School for the blind and made a lot of friends I still stay in touch with. The Royal Blind Society is great: they give you support and try to help you with cooking, using a computer, making friends and other things you need to achieve in life.

I have a disability but I am proud of who I am. I have lots of love and support from my family and friends. My hobbies are going out with my family, talking on the phone with friends, making new friends, learning new things, eating and helping around the house.

I like living in Australia because it is easy to make new friends. Going to places like TAFE and doing courses you make lots of new friends and learn new things, by typing on a computer that has a program using speech to tell me what is on the computer screen.

I think living in Australia is fun, a great place to learn about different cultural backgrounds and meet different people. I have learnt about different disabilities and been able to talk to people about their disabilities and my disability. I have made friends with different disabilities. Some use wheelchairs, some have a visual impairment like me and some have speech impairments. Sometimes we are a bit slower because of our disabilities but we are still people who get out into the community and do lots of the same things, like making friends, learning, going to the beach, playing sport.

Next time you see a person with a disability go just go up to them and say hello.

Hannen Abdallah

Gandimathy’s Story

My name is Gandimathy Rowdendran and I came to Australia 10 years ago with my wife Elaguppillai and daughter Vignarajahni, who has a disability. My wife and I are my daughter’s only carers. We receive some assistance from the Home Care Services, who come twice a week to help our daughter bathe. My wife and I also receive the age pension.


We left Sri Lanka because of the fighting among our people. We are Tamil and the area we lived in only had electricity supply for a few hours a day, making it difficult to look after our daughter. When the fighting started we would go to the bunkers but this frightened and unsettled our daughter and it was very hard for her to stay in and to understand why she had to stay shut inside the bunker. She would become very frightened and would start screaming and crying. Coming to Australia has provided safety and security for our family.

Another reason we like living in Australia is the health care and the financial security we receive from pensions. We have had no problems getting the help we need for our daughter and have made friends within the Tamil and Australian communities.

Seven years ago we applied to the Immigration Department for our eldest daughter to come and live in Australia. My wife and I are ageing and suffering poor health and we would like our eldest daughter, who is living in Switzerland, to come to Australia to look after Vignarajahni. Finally, with the help of the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association, we have been able to organise for our eldest daughter to come and live with us in Australia. The whole family is looking forward to the reunion. My wife and I are very relieved knowing that Vignarajahni will be well looked after and have a happy future in Australia.

Gandimathy Rowdendran

Carmelo’s Story

Living with a disability is fairly hard, well maybe not hard but when you want things or try to find things, it’s not easy. You’re always waiting on things, waiting for people to get back to you.

I’ve visited Italy with my family – that’s where they come from, but I’ve lived in Australia all my life so it’s my home. My family speaks a mixture of English and Italian. My Mum and step-Dad don’t speak English all that well. I was OK until I was about 5½ or 6. I was walking and everything but then I went downhill and had to have ‘shunts’ put in my head. I went to a School for Specific Purpose at Camperdown, where the old kids’ hospital was. I looked after myself when I got home from school because my Mum went to work. When I needed services I had to get on the phone and fix it up myself. But the school helped as well. They wanted me to go to a regular school for the last year or two of school. I said “why now?” I mean, why not at the beginning? They said I’d get a better education and it’d be good for me.

I have always wanted to work for Qantas. I’ve done some work experience for them and that was great. I’ve done a lot of work experience but I can’t get real work. Between my ethnic background and my disability it’s probably more my disability that causes barriers. Employers don’t always know what to do. I’ve ended up in the Industrial Relations Court for unfair dismissal but it was an unsatisfactory outcome.

I’ve been to quite a few employment services. They haven’t really helped me and I have had to do it all myself. I’d like to work with people with disabilities to support them to get jobs and teach employers to understand and support the needs of people with disability. I know it is different for people with disabilities but employers should be more helpful. Employers need to know more about how to work with people with disabilities. They should be more flexible and open. They need to learn more, have more training about how to deal with people with disabilities. We’re all people after all.

My week is spent attending disability activity groups and a respite care centre. I go out with my carer nearly every week to play ten-pin bowls. One of my favorite things is going to clubs having dinner and listening to music. I don’t always want to socialise just with people with disabilities.

The thing that’s good about living in Australia is that things are accessible. You can get out there and do things. Australia has reasonable services for people with disabilities. I’ve been to Italy, where my parents come from, and things are not very accessible. It’s a very ancient country so it’s really hard for me to get around.

I’ve never really experienced racism; it’s more about people’s attitude to my disability. When I go to nightclubs people steer clear of me. When I go with my parents and they go out to smoke or play the pokies, I want to stay and listen to the music. I sit there alone and no-one comes up and says hello or anything. You feel left out; you’re left there sitting on your own. I’ve got used to it.

It’s been16 years since I’ve left school and there have been changes in some way in the way disability services operate. Unemployment is still an issue. You wake up thinking what’ll I do today? It’s not always easy to get someone to do something with you, so you end up doing things on your own.


Augusto’s Story

My story started in the Philippines. I met Angie in 1958 when she was a waitress in a restaurant. The day I met her I asked her out and a year later we got married. We have 7 beautiful children, 2 sons and 5 daughters.

augustoWhile I was working as a barman in a Philippine village hotel I met an Australian who wanted to recruit me and 10 other work colleagues to work in his restaurant in Australia as contract workers for two years. I had to come to Australia alone because my employer didn’t allow us to bring our families. I thought if I got too homesick I would just return home. I made the sacrifice to leave my wife and 7 children to give my family a better life.

I arrived in Australia in 1976 with my 10 work colleagues and started working at a new restaurant in North Sydney as barmen, waiters and waitresses. When I arrived in Australia I was very impressed. I am not trying to downgrade my country but Australia is a very different country. It’s cleaner and the people are very friendly. I was only hoping to work here for 2 years as I promised my family but I fell in love with Australia.

I met a woman and we became close friends. We moved in together and she looked after me and helped me to live in Australia. She showed me that my work colleagues and I were being cheated by our employer, we weren’t paid wages just $125 a week. She helped us to join the union and our boss was confronted by the union and I left that job and got a job at a big city hotel.

I was separated from Angie, who was in the Philippines, because of a family dispute. I was still sending money for our children and writing letters to my family regularly. I tried to sponsor Angie to come to Australia because I missed her and my children very much. I wanted us to live together in Australia but Angie’s visa was denied. Every two years I would go home and visit Angie and our children in the Philippines.

One year my son came to Australia to visit me and met an Australian woman whom he married in the Philippines. My son and daughter-in-law helped Angie to apply for Australian residence and finally she was able to come and live in Australia. When Angie first arrived in Australia I would go and visit her and we would talk for hours but it was very difficult because I was living with someone else. Slowly I moved in with Angie. At first there were some tensions but two years later, after Angie’s Australian residence had been processed, we got married for the second time in Australia.

The only love that compared to my love for Angie was my love of Australia and now we are living happily together as Australians. Angie has a disability and she and I get more support from organisations like MDAA than we could in the Philippines. In the Philippines if you are poor or disadvantaged you don’t have a voice, no one listens to you or gives you the opportunity to contribute. This is what I like about Australia; although not everybody is treated equally you have a better chance of being heard.

Augusto Dizon

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