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My CFA family – one man’s journey from Iraq to CFA
A few regular school visits from the local fire brigade inspired a young Baker Dawas to join CFA to give back to his community.
Baker (pronounced, Barker) became a member of Craigieburn Fire Brigade in 2011 and as a migrant he credits the brigade for making him feel welcome.
As a young child, he and his family left Iraq in the mid-90s to start a new life in Australia.
Learning a new language, culture and finding his place in this new country was hard, but Baker credits the local brigade for helping him along.
“I immediately felt included. From those initial school visits to joining the brigade, I have always been made to feel at home,” Baker said.
He found school challenging as the language barrier affected his work. Even basic activities many take for granted, such as parents helping their children with homework, presented obstacles as his parents only spoke Arabic.
But being bilingual would soon pay off. Baker and his brigade at Craigieburn found that his bilingual skills could be operationally useful.
“Our local community has a culturally diverse population and like me, many still speak their first language at home. In about one in five calls-outs I’ve responded to, I have used my first language to communicate with casualties and assist other emergency services personnel with translation.”
“I never thought my first language would one day help me and have a positive impact on my community.”
Baker recalls one particular call-out where Ambulance Victoria paramedics were unable to communicate with a distressed woman who attempted to re-enter her burning home, and had to be held back. Unable to understand English, he was quickly able to build trust with her by communicating in their shared language.
“She was amazed I could speak to her in Arabic. It immediately made her feel much more at ease knowing she could communicate with me.
“Building trust is a challenge which a lot of people don’t understand, particularly where language is a barrier.
“Migrants sometimes react with hesitation towards authorities because of experiences drawn from their home countries.
“They’re more likely to call their relatives in an emergency than Triple Zero, which can make it very hard for emergency services that arrive on scene.”
As a Muslim Baker says he appreciates his brigade’s support and respect for his culture and religious beliefs. This extends to ensuring Halal meat is available at the station.
“I invited the brigade to join me and my family in a Ramadan Mubarak dinner at my home recently.
“This feast is part of our holy month of Ramadan – a month of prayer and contemplation where we fast from dawn to dusk.
“I wanted to share my culture with my CFA family and it was an honour to welcome them at our dinner.”
One of the guests at the Dawas’ dinner was Senior Station Officer Shaun Pacher, who has been a member of the Craigieburn brigade since 2009.
Over the years Shaun has been a part of a number of cultural community safety and engagement programs that the brigade facilitates.
“Craigieburn is a very diverse community. There are over 28 different languages spoken, with 57 per cent of the population speaking English only,” said Shaun.
“There are 12 different religious groups represented; many have their own centres and places of worship in the area.
“It’s very important for us as a brigade to understand and respect their cultural practices.”
“For us as a team, it’s normal to eat together, but this occasion helped us to understand and appreciate one of our own brigade member’s cultural traditions. Volunteers and staff, we’re a family and this is just an extension of our own inclusive culture.”
For Baker, this culture and strong connection to the community drives his passion and dedication as a firefighter for CFA.
“When you wear the CFA uniform no one will judge you for your background,” Baker said.
“There aren’t many jobs where you can directly help the community and I hope someday to make firefighting my career." he said.
“For me it’s about having a purpose and protecting my fellow Victorians.”
Thank you to One World Family for allowing us to use its interview.
To view the interview in full check out its YouTube channel here"