Fairy Meadow’s Shahed Al Jasry didn’t speak a word of English when she and her family migrated to Australia in 2016, after fleeing conflict in their native Syria. Today, that language is her chosen vehicle to raise awareness of important issues impacting refugees.
Having written multiple pieces for occasions such as National Refugee Week, the 15-year-old’s latest work – a poem – is a commentary on the true story of a family friend, exploring domestic violence and the stigma around divorce.
“I was encouraged by my parents to mention abusive behaviour towards women around the world. The first thing that came to my mind when writing down ideas for my poem was the stories of abused women that I have either met or heard of,” she says.
“There was one story in particular that inspired me. It was about a family friend who had gotten married and experienced abuse in the marriage, but she eventually got out and became a really successful artist. Through her art, she brings other people’s stories – stories similar to hers – to light.
“That really moved me. I thought it was really unfair that she went through that and I didn’t understand why she had to.
“Many women to this day are victims of domestic and other types of violence. Not all women have the right to speak up or exclude themselves from these situations, so I wanted to be their voice and bring awareness through stories of women succeeding after an abusive marriage.”
Shahed says while she loves all forms of the written word, her current pursuits centre on the creative exploration of true stories.
“When I hear something that’s true and happening, which shouldn’t be, I know that writing is one way I can help raise awareness of it,” she says.
“It’s a creative way of bringing an issue to life for an audience that may not otherwise interact with the topic. That can be very powerful.”
For her poem, Shahed was one of 14 winners at the Women’s Writing and Art Competition 2023 organised by the Illawarra Multicultural Services (IMS) in collaboration with the South Coast Writers Centre (SCWC).
The competition acknowledges the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November marking the start of the 16 days of activism. This year’s theme was “Stories of Women” and the competition attracted more than 60 writing entries and 70 art entries.
While it is open to everyone of all genders and backgrounds, most participants are women of refugee and non-English speaking backgrounds.
Shahed says the win feels “amazing”, but better yet is the opportunity to raise awareness one story at a time.
“I felt proud that I could bring this story to life and present it to other people that it might not have reached,” she says.
“This woman doesn’t live here, but the more people who hear her story, the more chance there will be that someone else might be inspired, and their life might be better for it.”
Shahed’s powerful poem is below.
Marriage will fix everything,
You won’t need to think about a thing
And you won’t need to work or study,
Don’t worry, we’ll get you ready
These were the words of her family
Not knowing the end is a tragedy.
This was how Dania’s story began
From living honourably
To living disturbingly
From feeling embraced
To becoming displaced
From cherished royalty to chains, her fate engraved
Once believed hands were simply for applause,
Till he gestures them, breaking love’s laws.
In her mind, a canvas where thoughts of freedom artfully drift
As she sketches wishes for success in her life, education and self
Days, weeks and months went by, still in a choice which she cannot deny
Not before her plans construct freedom’s path
Divorce was the only solution to gain back her laugh
She was one decision away from a totally different life. As she decided to strive in leaving, a fresh chapter unfurls, where she brings life into them through art, women’s narratives, untold pearls.