Nine-year-old Maxamed was born in Australia. His father Barre and his mother Faduma are from Somalia and arrived on humanitarian visas in 2009. Maxamed is in Grade 3 at primary school in Melbourne, and he has a sister, Sahro (16), and brother, Kaafi (14), both in secondary school.

In 2006, Barre and Faduma and their two young children were living with extended family in their village. When rebel forces invaded during their war against the government, the whole family witnessed violence and bombings. Barre saw his younger brother killed, and some of Faduma’s relatives were badly injured.

Barre and Faduma fled with their children to neighbouring Kenya on foot, a journey that took several weeks and saw them under constant threat of attack. The family arrived in Kenya, where they lived for almost three years in an overcrowded refugee camp. In 2009, Faduma’s uncle, who had been in Australia for several years, sponsored the family to settle in Melbourne.

Maxamed was born soon after the family’s arrival and he grew up speaking Somali. The family had strong community links and socialised within its language group. Maxamed’s introduction to life in Australia included visiting local playgrounds and markets, and travelling by bus with his mother to drop off and pick up his siblings from primary school.

His family was startled by loud noises, particularly fireworks and sirens. During one particularly noisy New Year’s Eve celebration, the family was so upset that they spent the night with friends in a neighbouring suburb. After that night, loud noises also began to startle and upset Maxamed.

Maxamed’s father Barre has experienced ongoing mental health issues and sleeping problems. These impacted on his capacity to work, so his mother Faduma took on extra shifts in her job as a cleaner to help make ends meet. She completed English classes when she first arrived in Australia, and has now restarted English language learning at the local neighbourhood house with the aim of becoming an interpreter.

Maxamed began primary school a long way behind his peers in terms of reading and writing English. And, because he was born in Australia, Maxamed was not provided with EAL support.

He had grown up hearing stories about life in Somalia, a country he had never seen, and he began to wonder where he belonged. Kids at school initially laughed at him when they asked, ‘Where do you come from?’ and he told them, ‘Australia’.

The primary school has a junior basketball team and, because he’s tall Maxamed was asked to play. He enjoys the sport, has made friends as a result of being on the team, and is being considered for the regional representative squad. This is causing conflict at home, however, because his parents are concerned about the squad fees and travel costs.

Maxamed’s father Barre feels under pressure to sponsor family members to come to Australia despite the family’s modest income. In addition, he must financially support his brother’s widow in Somalia. When these pressures mount, Barre experiences intense anxiety. At these times Maxamed becomes withdrawn at school, though his teacher doesn’t know why he suddenly pulls away from her and his peers.

The school recently held its parent–teacher interviews and Maxamed was excited to show off to his parents the work he had done in Maths and his project on water use. He was disappointed, however, when his mother couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying.