(Source: IWF Australia’s Winter 2016 Newsletter)
Mariam Issa became an Honorary IWF Australia member last month in recognition of her grass roots efforts for social change. Mariam is a story teller. She arrived in Australia with young children and initially held many reservations about integrating into the local community. Thankfully, her childhood sense of curiosity got the better of her. Why are these women living these routines she wondered, who are they underneath the busy-ness, magazine styled hair and make-up? In her non-judgmental, delightful way, Mariam set about deliberately making conversation with the school mothers. She would enter the room with her tall frame held high, and introduce herself to anyone and everyone. If I am going to bring up my children here, if I expect them to go out into this world, then I too must explore it, and know it she thought.
For her children, Mariam pushed the boundaries for freedom and a broad education. She describes her husband as her rock, pulling things inward and outlining the perimeters of what is safe. Although the move was at times very challenging, they both grew as a result, and importantly respected each other’s need to grow.
Mariam approaches life from a space of awareness. She believes vehemently in sitting in one’s own truth and accepting those around you exactly as they are. In this way, Mariam says, we can understand what motivates us, what stimulates us. Questioning the self is so important, she says. To understand and be comfortable with one’s own ‘personal identity’ is perhaps at the core of Mariam’s ability to relate to others through story. She understands the cohesive nature of humans living side by side, but points out the trappings we lay for each other also.
“It’s important to find your own way in life…like water. you can’t force it. If you resist…things will fight against you. Be a leader for yourself and you will inspire those around you to lead themselves too.”
Sitting in Mariam’s garden, one is filled with courage. Don’t be afraid of phases and changes…they bring renewal, growth and opportunity.
LOVE is an acronym Mariam uses very deliberately to look inside her own feelings. L means Listen for the understanding. She tells us. O is to Observe. V stands for Validate. E – your Emotion. Sitting in Mariam’s garden, one is filled with courage. Don’t be afraid of phases and changes…they bring renewal, growth and opportunity.
Mariam created RAW garden in her own backyard. Nestled in suburban Brighton RAW is a magical space, set aside for story telling, healing and for getting down into the dirt. Mariam has school groups come through and teaches them about seasons, about the life-death-life cycle. Children are so removed from dirt and digging now, she says.
Mariam told her children when they moved to their new home, I am going to plant a garden, and in this garden people will come and sit and find themselves. She says her children remind her of this every day. You’re amazing mum! You said you were going to build this garden and now look! She gestures to the banana trees, the chicken shed, the running water fountain bubbling away.
When our new IWF Operations Manager Katie McLeod and I went to meet Mariam, we were both struck with the calm of the garden. Bees buzz from flower to flower in the winter light. Each bee visits over 2000 flowers to collect enough pollen to make one drop of honey, Mariam tells us. Now I see what ‘busy-ness’ is all about. Mariam naturally recognises the lesson in the miraculous work of the humble bee. Yes we work so hard and so tirelessly, but what we produce must be sweet as honey to us. We must love and believe in our work. The example is a lesson in commitment, diligence and truth of purpose.
Mariam is a warm and deeply spiritual person. Her approach to life is anchored around being present, actively listening and facilitating the changes she hopes to experience. An observer of nature, her natural story telling skills are inspired by the slow and steady diligence of the plants, animals and insects in her RAW garden. The RAW garden is a metaphor for Mariam’s personal story and the stories around her. A story of new beginnings, continual change, creativity, an environment with purpose and interconnectivity, a place where love and care are the nourishment and the framework.
Mariam acknowledges the agency she had to design her own life. She doesn’t shy away from being a creator and owning her creation, she whole-heartedly embraces the power she has to make a difference. Refugees, Brighton mums, passers by and so many more, are beneficiaries of her story-telling. Find the time to wonder in and sit with Mariam. You will find yourself telling your own stories. Ones you didn’t even know you had.