Soraj’s Story

My Chronicle column this month tells the story of Soraj Habib.
Inspiring Tale Reflects Best of Canberra, The Chronicle, 2 July 2013


Soraj Habib was nine years old when the bomb he was holding exploded. He had been out with his family to a picnic at Thakhtah Safar park in Herat, a city in western Afghanistan. He had picked up the yellow can thinking it might contain food rations. It turned out to be an unexploded cluster bomb.

The blast from the bomb killed one of Soraj’s cousins and injured two others. Soraj lost one of his legs immediately, and was so badly injured that when they took him to the hospital, he was initially placed in the refrigerated morgue. His family had to wrangling with the doctor to have him moved from the cold floor to a hospital bed. Then came an eight hour operation, in which his other leg was removed.

A week later, Soraj felt swelling in his body. A piece of the bomb had been left in his body. More surgery followed, then a long stint in hospital. Part-way through his ten month stay, one of the doctors argued that Soraj shouldn’t be kept alive, telling his family ‘he’ll only ever be half a man’.

Returning home, Soraj found his family were welcoming, but his former friends were aloof. ‘Why would we play with someone who doesn’t have any legs?’, they said. When his family sought to enrol him in school again, the principal refused. Only an appeal to the education department finally saw the principal relent.

In 2011, Soraj had a chance to travel to Australia to raise awareness of the harm done by cluster munitions. He applied for refugee status, and moved to Canberra when his application was successful.

Today, Soraj is a Year 12 student at Dickson College. He plays wheelchair basketball and has friends he can trust. After graduating, he is considering a career in either IT or working with people with disabilities. Things are still hard – he misses his parents, sister, and three brothers, who he has not seen since he left Afghanistan. But for the first time in his life, Soraj tells me, he feels truly happy.

Last month, Dickson College held DesignGate, a creative market that brought together painters and sculptors, jewellers and textile designers. The event showcased a cornucopia of craftspeople, with students, teachers, parents and the local community happily mingling together.

DesignGate 2013 helped to raise money to help Soraj buy prosthetic legs (something that will hopefully be unnecessary once Labor’s DisabilityCare scheme kicks off next year). As Dickson College art teacher Nicky Mowbray told me, ‘we are all excited by the prospect of Soraj walking across the stage at his Year 12 Graduation this year to receive his certificate!’.

Soraj’s story is an extraordinary tale of grit, resilience and fortune. He has experienced more suffering in his 21 years than most of us will in our lives. We are lucky to have him as part of our community. By their generosity, the Dickson College community has shown Canberra at its very best: warmly welcoming refugees into our city, and offering them the hand of friendship.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com.

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