Meet Fazela Abbasi: Shepparton’s young volunteer of the year

Greater Shepparton City Council's Youth Volunteer of the Year was awarded to final year Social Work student Fazela Abbasi.

Fazela Abbasi, 24, is reaching the tail end of one of the most difficult, and rewarding, years of her life.

This year, Ms Abbasi has forged through the final year of her social work degree — in the midst of a pandemic, no less.

“It's been a difficult and challenging year, but at the same time ... it will end up with a positive outcome, because I will finish,” she said.

“And I guess that's what's been pushing me through the difficult days ... that there's something positive at the end.”

Ms Abbasi currently works at Save the Children in its Safer Pathways Project, assisting migrant refugee women by raising awareness about family violence.

“My current work is around ... empowering women in the region, and making sure that women receive the support that they need,” she said.

Ms Abbasi also volunteered at the Afghani/Hazara Community Centre and at her local mosque, and helped elders support newly arrived families and culturally and linguistically diverse communities adjust to a new lifestyle in Australia.

She could often be found driving newly arrived community members to their appointments to help interpret.

For Ms Abbasi, who has lived in Shepparton for the past 15 years, volunteering is just what you do to look after each other.

“My volunteer work was not for personal gain, all just to support community members and families,” she said.

“Because that was something that they needed help with.''

Ms Abbasi’s unflinching humility will serve her well in her future career as a social worker.

It has also won her the award for Greater Shepparton City Council’s Youth Volunteer of the Year.

“I think, hopefully, this achievement is going to lead to many more in the future,” she said.

“And hopefully, I'll be able to do more community work and serve the community I live with ... to be able to empower and promote justice for everyone as much as I can.”

This year, though, the pandemic has made Ms Abbasi’s work all the more difficult.

In her studies, the move from face-to-face learning to completely online study was jolting.

“The family environment makes it a bit difficult to actually concentrate during your lectures and your seminars,” she said.

“Things happen in the house and you have so much to do.”

COVID-19 restrictions have also disrupted her work outside of the home.

Last year, Ms Abbasi was doing community sessions with women, and had “amazing outcomes” from the talks.

But in April, COVID-19 restrictions put a halt to the program.

“I wasn't able to connect with (the women) regularly, and ... have discussions and conversations about, you know, what they've learnt so far, what is something they'd love to learn in the future,” Ms Abbasi said.

“For me, I feel like ... the connection and the relationship building is a major part of being out in the field and working and serving the community.

“You build those connections and those relationships, and it's an ongoing thing, and that's the best part of it.”

Ms Abbasi didn’t always know social work was the career for her. It was only in high school that everything suddenly clicked, while on a placement at Shepparton’s Primary Care Connect.

“I connected with many social workers and welfare workers and I was inspired by how much they serve the community without personal gain,” she said.

“So it's brought me here today.”

And the million dollar question: Does she plan on sticking around in Shepparton on the other side of her degree?

“That’s my intention,” Ms Abbasi said.

“Every day I wake up, looking forward to going in to work, because of the diversity and the acceptance of being able to support people.

“It's such an amazing area to work in ... this community is continuing to support each other.”

This article first appeared in Shepparton News 28 October 2020.