Part one

Shai was 11 years old and living very happily in Damascus in Syria when war broke out. Her family lived in a lovely house and her parents had good jobs.

Even though she was surrounded by violence and disruptions, Shai enjoyed school. There were times when the school was closed down because of bomb scares and damage, and other times when she couldn’t go out because her parents were concerned for her safety, as there were snipers in the streets, random bombings and people disappearing. Shai lost relatives and friends, and fled to Lebanon with her family after a particularly violent incident.

In Lebanon she stayed at home because the family felt threatened whenever they went outside. They did not have work or study rights, and lived on savings and some illegal work her brother found. Shai tried to study at home as much as she could. They were in Lebanon for five years.

Shai has been in Australia 12 months. Now aged 17 years, she is in Year 11 at secondary college. She has made some class friends and likes most of her teachers. Sometimes when she’s in class she finds it hard to concentrate on what the teacher is saying because she keeps remembering the terrible things that happened to her in the past or she is worried about people in Syria. Sometimes she is very tired because she can’t sleep or has had bad dreams.

Shai speaks a lot more English than her parents, and often goes to Centrelink or the doctor to help and interpret for them. This means that sometimes she has to miss school, then her teacher isn’t happy and she worries about getting in to trouble.

Shai worries about her father because he has nightmares, doesn’t sleep well and sometimes gets upset because of their life. He doesn’t like going out of the house.

She loves playing basketball with her friends. She likes going out with her friends too but her father often doesn’t want her to go out. Shai enjoys singing and is part of a choir. She especially enjoys going to the local library and interacting with other young people there.

Shai likes Australia. She wants to get part-time work while at school so she can help her family and also her aunt, who remains in Syria. She hopes to become a dentist and wants her family to have a good future here.

Part two: Shai talks about herself

You are chatting with Shai when she tells you that her dream is to become a dentist in Australia. She has been looking at universities but she doesn’t understand how to apply for them or whether her grades will be good enough. Her teacher has told her she needs to do a lot of catching up to qualify for dentistry.

She fights back tears as she tells you that she doesn’t know if her English will ever be good enough. She can’t concentrate in class because she is very tired and worried about her family, especially her father because he seems sad and in pain. She doesn’t sleep well because she sees images of terrible things she saw in Syria, and she worries about her aunt, other family and friends who are there.

Shai wants to find a part-time job to help her family and asks you to help her. She also wants help with improving her English and finding out more about university. She says that her friends are all from Syria and she wants to have Australian friends.


  • How might you feel during this conversation with Shai?
  • What might your response to Shai be when she:
    • talks about wanting to be a dentist and what her teacher has said?
    • tells you she is not sleeping, is worried about her father and people in Syria?
    • asks for your assistance in finding work and going to university?
    • says she wants to have Australian friends?
  • In your current role, how might you support Shai?
  • Who and what else might help Shai? Think about what currently exists in your school and what services you might refer Shai to in the broader community.