My name is Salim Mohamed. I was born in Somalia in 1993 during a time of war. Fortunately, my family was able to flee to Ethiopia when I was a few months old and then come to Australia in 1998. I’m the Youth Development Coordinator at Western Bulldogs and co-founder of Bright Young Minds Australia, and today Heidelberg West is home.
Arriving in Australia my family first lived in Preston and Thomastown, moving to Heidelberg West in 2002. The Somalian community is strong here; we have many friends, and there are sporting organisations and community programs that make it a very vibrant place to live.
When we first moved to Heidelberg West there was less understanding and acceptance of our community, but I have seen it change into a much more multicultural space. In that time I have also seen a lot of growth, with new facilities being built, and property values increasing. My local soccer club, the Heidelberg Stars, has had a renovation from the council, which was amazing. I have played there since I was 14 years old, but when I turned 19 I started coaching.
When I began coaching I had no experience, but I was committed, and by the end of my first year we won the league and state competition under 15. This motivated me to join the club’s committee and start to design new programs. Today I see more young people taking leadership positions and start their own organisations; the challenges we face are different to those our elders faced when they arrived, but they’ve seen us dedicate our time and energy, so we have earned their support.
All migrant parents want their kids to be doctors and engineers, so at school I did science and maths to make mine proud, but my true passion was youth and sports oriented, and volunteering gave me the chance to explore this. When I started volunteering, I was very committed but not fully aware of its value. Today, I see young people volunteering, but many want to take a short cut and just get the organisation in their CV without developing skills. The key to volunteering are the intangibles you can’t put on a CV, like the recognition of those who see you do the work.
Through volunteering with Heidelberg Stars I had the opportunity to work with Melbourne Victory for a year. This helped me gain experience and contacts, which led me to other jobs and into leadership programs. In one such program I could request a mentor, and I asked for someone working with youths and sports. The mentor assigned was a manager at Western Bulldogs, so I was able to ask him for advice on a project some friends and I were starting. Impressed with our project, he suggested I apply for a job with the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation.
As youth development coordinator I now deliver leadership programs to young people from various councils in the west. Having lived all my life in Melbourne’s north I was used to a diverse community, so when I started visiting country towns I had to get used to being the first African person some people had ever met. When that happens I feel a responsibility to make the best impression I can, as I’m not only representing myself, or my work, but also my entire community. I want everyone to walk away saying: “I met an amazing person from an African background.”
I think everyone has a duty to represent what they stand for. I represent people of African background, I represent people of Muslim background and everything else you may see me as. Young African people have that responsibility, whether we like it or not, and if somebody watches the news or hears about African gangs, I want them to be able to say: “I know Salim, and Salim isn’t like that.” In a perfect world nobody should have that pressure. In a perfect world we should only have to represent ourselves. But we don’t live in a perfect world.
The Somalian community in Australia is very young compared to others, and while our parents had the responsibility of establishing themselves, often without their education being recognised, my generation has the responsibility to start breaking down professional employment barriers so the next generation can have those opportunities. I do the best I can in whatever job I do, hoping that one day, be it tomorrow or in five years, someone will say “Salim did a good job. Let’s give another young African person a chance.” For me that is not a pressure, it’s a motivation.