Local Hero : Dawood Baqiri
WHEN AFGHAN-BORN Dawood Baqiri commenced school at McGuire College at the beginning of the school year in 2010, he could not speak English. Instead of attending Shepparton English Language Centre, he plunged into secondary education and relied on the skills that had helped him survive alone on Kabul’s tough streets from the age of 13.
Dawood spent his early childhood in a Pakistani town of mostly illegal Afghani immigrants, returning to Afghanistan after his mother died and supporting himself on the streets of Kabul and Herat by selling cigarettes and chewing gum.
“I was a street boy,” he said. “Some days I didn’t go to school; mainly I worked before or after school and at weekends. It was dangerous for me. Sometimes I didn’t have a place to sleep at night—just wherever I could. I lived like that for three years.”
He studied Year 8 and 9 during two years in Kabul. “I thought, whatever it takes, I’ll continue at school because I couldn’t go on selling things to people. I didn’t want to live my whole life like that.”
At 16, he successfully applied to join his step-family in Australia.
Since his arrival as a refugee on New Year’s Eve in 2009, Dawood overcame the language barrier and his lack of a primary school education. He supported himself and lived independently while successfully completing his VCE, he was elected vice-president of the Shepparton Afghan community while still in Year 12, he received the Australian Defence Force Long Tan Leadership and Teamwork Award in 2011, and Shepparton’s McGuire College Academic Achievement Award in 2011 and 2012.
In 2012 he was elected McGuire College school captain from a field of seven candidates, receiving 70 per cent of the votes.
‘Being elected school captain changed everything for me. It has given me the inspiration to do my best.’
Bill Porter, Assistant Principal of McGuire College, praised Dawood. “His personal example has had a huge influence on his student peers. They look up to him. His leadership, his endeavour and tenacity in overcoming the obstacles, his sense of responsibility towards himself and others, and his personal behaviour with students and staff, has inspired everyone in the school community. He is always willing to get involved and give back wherever he can. He is an outstanding role model.”
Now 21, he is studying for a bachelor of social science (legal and dispute studies) at Melbourne’s RMIT University. His commitment to working for the community continues: in June 2015, he became a Rotarian.