ALI Tahiri has travelled a long way from where he was born, where he grew up and to where he lives and works now, helping people as a lifesaver and also as part of an Ambulance Victoria crew in Foster.
From his birthplace in Lashkargah in southwestern Afghanistan, Ali migrated as a baby with his family to Pakistan in search of a better future.
By himself at the age of 16 Ali left Pakistan on a boat bound for Australia for much the same reason, in order to survive well away from a situation that was “no good”.
After a month on Christmas Island, a period at the Leonora Detention Centre in outback Western Australia, and living among communities at Fairfield in suburban Sydney and in the Perth suburb of Bayswater, Ali arrived in Melbourne in 2013.
Continuing from where he had left off as a young teenager in Pakistan, Ali enrolled in his next course of English classes at a language school, where he met a Life Saving Victoria representative who invited him to join LSV’s aquatic education program and become a qualified pool lifeguard.
And Ali did just that, once he had first learned how to swim!
Then, at the start of 2019, Ali was asked to be one of six Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) young people from LSV’s cohort of pool lifeguards to be trained as Ambulance Community Officers (ACOs) in the pilot Multicultural Employment Pathways program.
The program is a partnership between Ambulance Victoria (AV) and LSV and aims to strengthen AV’s operational workforce, to provide a training and employment model for newly arrived CALD Victorians into emergency service careers and to increase diversity within rural communities.
ACOs are first responders employed on a casual basis who provide advanced first aid in remote communities where the caseload is low, and the branch is not staffed full-time. ACOs have life-saving skills that they develop, maintain and extend every year.
Ali, now aged 24, is one of the program’s first ACO graduates and since May has been working shifts alongside the paramedics and other ACOs at AV’s Foster branch, while his fellow graduates, hailing from Somalia, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar and Pakistan, are based at Beaufort, west of Ballarat.
When the chance to be involved in the AV LSV Multicultural Employment Pathways program came up, Ali said he jumped at it, so he could work as an ACO alongside AV paramedics, and in time become a paramedic himself.
“Being a paramedic is more than just wearing a uniform, it’s about community and giving back to the community,” he said.
“When I first arrived, I remember how helpful people were, and I want to pay back to Australia in any way I can and to help the community out.”
Becoming an ACO is the first step on the path to becoming a paramedic, which also requires each candidate to study for a three-year Bachelor of Emergency Health degree.
Ali has another unique skill in that he is multilingual, speaking not only English but also his native Afghani tongue of Hazaragi, along with Hindi as spoken in Pakistan and India, and Farsi, the language of Iran.
AV Foster branch team leader Leigh Nichols-Thompson welcomed Ali to the station, saying that she had been delighted Foster and Beaufort had been selected to be the first AV branches in the Multicultural Employment Pathways program.
“The program has been successful, as you can see from Ali’s presence here, and AV with LSV will be extending it in the future, with Anglesea and Tatura likely to be the next branches involved,” she said.
“As an ACO, Ali will be working several shifts each month, with 10-hour days, and 14 hours on at night.
“Here at Foster we have two permanent paramedic staff and 24 casual ACOs,” Leigh said.
“A lot of our ACOs are local people from all sorts of backgrounds who have decided they want to work for their community too, and they offer their services as much as they can.
“Some ACOs are available for a couple of shifts a month while others have more time and can do more shifts,” she said.
“Ali is keen to progress as an ACO, and learning more and more with every shift he does, working with a paramedic and our other ACOs, and heading towards starting his Emergency Health degree.”
AV Chief Executive Officer, Associate Professor Tony Walker said the Multicultural Employment Pathways program pilot with Life Saving Victoria “is an example of a partnership that makes a difference.
“Our ACOs will be able to engage with rural communities in a positive way, bridging cultural gaps and providing exceptional patient care to those who need it in an emergency, all while supporting AV’s paramedic workforce,” he said.
“We hope the program will inspire other young people with similar backgrounds to consider pursuing a career in the emergency services sector.”
LVS CEO Nigel Taylor said “this program builds on LSV’s multicultural water safety awareness programs to create career pathways into Victoria’s emergency services.
“For more than a decade we have had great success engaging with the CALD community, establishing pathways for multicultural community members into volunteer lifesaving clubs, as well as into paid lifeguarding and swim teacher positions,” he said.“The benefits for local communities have included bridging cultural and language differences, encouraging inclusion and social cohesion, and we hope to see these results extended into the emergency services.”