Obsa and Ahmed
by Dawn Green, Volunteering Tasmania
The Give Back program – how two Hobart teens are challenging stereotypes and leading the way.
They have experienced hardships that one could scarcely imagine as they narrowly escaped conflict between ethnic groups in Ethiopia, fleeing through Sudan and Egypt and eventually calling Tasmania home. Yet despite all they have been through, two teenage boys, Obsa Shafee and Ahmed Omer, have adapted smoothly to their new lives in Glenorchy, and they display an astute awareness and appreciation for their situation.
The boys, aged 15 and 16 respectively, relate how they were saddened when, not long after arriving in Tasmania, they heard of the discontent surrounding alleged African youth gangs on the mainland and how some people feared people from different ethnic backgrounds because they ‘weren’t doing good things in Australia.’
“We want to do a good thing to change people’s minds,” Ahmed says. “That’s what encouraged us to start the program.” So, less than a year after arriving in Tasmania, in 2019, they approached Will Smith, the director of JCP Empowering Youth with their idea to create and run the Give Back program. Will gave them the nod and provided the logistics to get their activities up and running.
During 2019 and some of 2020, the boys travelled around the state doing their good work. They visited farms on the North- West Coast, worked in a kitchen for the homeless in Devonport, spent time learning about Aboriginal culture and donated clothes and housing supplies. In addition to this, they raised $50,000 to support those in need. They have mentored other at-risk and vulnerable youth across the state and delivered leadership content to over 1,000 students.The boys have collected and distributed a large amount of clothes and necessities, such as $5,000 in Woolworths vouchers as acts of kindness to contribute to developing positive mental health. They collected $15,000 in brand new shoes and gave them to refugee and at-risk youth and adults to help them play sport.
They speak regularly to people about their life stories and share insight to other young people. Travelling during school holidays, weekends and after school, they volunteer and support other youth and adults at a time when we should be providing them the most support.
“Everywhere the boys go, they’re inspiring people,” Will says. “I am in shock and awe of their program – they’re putting themselves out there doing things that other kids wouldn’t normally do, purely because they want to change people’s perception, not only of young refugees and African males which they speak well about, but also because they want to give back to Australia and say thank you for having the opportunity to live here.”
Visiting elderly people in aged care homes and speaking openly with them about their mutual life stories has proven to be a highlight. “When you speak with an older person, I know that that person did something good in the community and because of that person, I am here today and I’m really thankful. I feel really positive when I am around older people,” says Ahmed.
Obsa says it’s been a positive experience all round. “For me, the first time I’ve ever given back to someone, such as giving a box of shoes to someone, and them saying thank you, is a good feeling in my heart.”
Ahmed adds that they would love to see more young people become empowered to make a difference. “Our aim is to get other young people to do the same thing. We want to build up our next generation to be able to give back to the community and do something good. The power in giving back is when you give something and you get nothing in return, the power is in your heart. You feel good in your heart because you know you’ve done something good, and it betters you as a person.”
Obsa said he hoped the program would change perceptions. “Will always asks us how we’re going to change the world. We’re going to change the world by helping one person, and they’ll go and help another person and they go and help another person and it’ll keep going and the world will change.”
Obsa and Ahmed shared their story as part of a video project for Volunteering Tasmania’s recent awareness campaign to encourage Tasmanians to re-engage with volunteering or to perhaps even start for the first time.