This assignment follows the experiences of an immigrant Indian/Kashmiri family in their first couple of months in Australia. The family was a period of five weeks for a period of one to two hours per week in their family setting at home and once in the final week on a family picnic which they were gracious enough to invite me to. For discretionary purposes all personal information including names, addresses and any other identifiable markers have been changed in keeping with the primacy of the family’s privacy.
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The family consists of five individuals, the father Mr. Fayaz Ahmad, his wife Rubina Geelani, their two children Ahmad, a boy of 10, Maryam a girl of 12 and their 5 year old nephew Abbas. The family from here on for purposes of brevity will be known as the Ahmads. The Ahmad family is from the northern most state in India, Kashmir. Mr. Fayaz used to work as an engineer in the state of Kashmir with the municipal department of the state as a civil engineer superintendent. Ms. Rubina has a bachelor’s degree in education but has never worked full time, Maryam and Ahmad were both studying in a well reputed private school and were both performing above average in academics as well as extra-curricular activities, Abbas is their nephew who was recently witness to the tragic death of his parents in a militancy related incident in their home state.
Kashmir has had a long history of troubled political activity dating back to the partition of India and Pakistan during which time the Muslim majority state of Kashmir became a bone of contention between the two newborn nations. Since then there has been a slew of political and military activity that has served only to worsen the tangled situation between the two countries with two wars being fought over the state and an armed uprising against the Indian state fueled by Pakistan which resulted in massive state sponsored atrocities as well as transgressions on behalf of the armed rebels. Several other variables, including the growing influence of China, the rise of Afghan Islamist groups, political instability etc has also contributed to the increasingly complex situation in the state. The Ahmad family immigrated to Australia following the tragic death of his brother’s family in a military encounter against suspected militants, young Abbas was the only survivor of the tragedy and was adopted by Fayaz and his wife who decided to leave the trouble torn state behind in order to secure a better future for their children. I came into contact with them through a mutual friend who is a volunteer activist for militancy affected families in Kashmir and who also helped Fayaz through the formalities surrounding immigration.
My first encounter with the Fayaz family was on a pleasant sunny Australian Sunday afternoon the very next day after they had moved in to their home. My reception in their home was very warm and enthusiastic with Mr. Fayaz greeting me very effusively and treating me with great hospitality and warmth. I was told by my friend that the house was a temporary accommodation and was not in that great shape, nevertheless everywhere I saw I could see the efforts of Ms. Rubina and Mr. Fayaz to tidy up the place. There were boxes and unpacked luggage everywhere but Mr. Fayaz managed a comfortable couch space in the main room for me to settle down in.
The object of my research was somewhat puzzling to them as they seemed to follow me everywhere I went and it took some while for me to explain to them that this was merely an observation and not an interview, this was greeted with some skepticism and worry by Ms. Rubina who immediately wanted to know what I was looking for. The initial warmth gave way to some mistrust on behalf of Ms. Rubina who instructed the children not to play downstairs or in the open but to go to their room and play there. My initial thoughts were that the mistrust of my presence in their midst was related to their negative experiences with official government agencies that are notorious for their clandestine activities amongst the civilian population in Kashmir. The rest of the time passed by without any major incident and was spent mostly talking to Mr. Fayaz over consecutive cups of tea.
My second week started right after Mr. Fayaz found a part time job at a nearby retail institute as a sales executive; on my visit to the house he was not present as he was picking up a late shift that day. I used this opportunity to increase my rapport with Ms. Rubina and get to know her better, I felt that our previous encounter had not gone over the smoothest and after some initial reluctance she allowed me to observe the children playing in the yard. I had to assure her that I would not take any photographs of the children before she would allow me this. The children showed little effect of the trauma in their past, although Ahmad was showing signs of lethargy and malnutrition, upon asking Ms. Rubina about his health she replied that he was always a picky eater and had been getting progressively difficult to get him to eat properly in recent weeks.
On closer inspection of the children I saw that both Maryam and Ahmad were trying to involve Abbas in traditional Kashmiri games, a version of hopscotch and tag that somehow always ended up with Abbas winning, it was obvious that both Maryam and Ahmad were letting Abbas win these games. Later on while observing them I noticed that they shied away from me and rather spent time with their mother in the kitchen rather than stay anywhere they knew I could see them. In normal cases I would have construed this as natural shyness on behalf of the children but after seeing them play I could not imagine them being very timid by instinct.
My third visit marked the first time that the children had started school in Australia, I was fortunate enough to observe them coming home directly from school. Maryam seemed very pleased and satisfied with her day at school, although she spoke only in Kashmiri around her mother I could gather from the tone that she was excited about the prospect of school, Ahmad on the other hand seemed subdued and quiet, on closer observation I noticed the signs of a scuffle on the child, with a pocket torn off his new shirt, he was taken away by his mother to his room, I presumed this was to comfort him as there were no sounds of scolding from his room. Maryam was pleased enough to try and interact with me and be comfortable around me, she offered to show me her new books and notebooks, one of which bore a note by her teacher praising her drawing skills and another one which had her homework written down in her small, neat handwriting. She spoke with me in accented by fluent English asking me about why I was always in the house with them. The conversation led to the topics of her brother and little cousin, she admitted that Abbas was much sadder nowadays than in the past and he frequently wet his bed at night and as a result had to sleep with the parents in the other room instead of with them. I resolved to talk to Mister and Missis Ahmad about getting Abbas to see a child therapist.
Week 4: My fourth visit was a bit rocky as my previous suggestion of a child therapist for Abbas had not gone down well with Mister Fayaz. He felt that I was making unfair demands of him and that the child had been doing fine before I was there and even at one point tried blaming me for Abbas’s changed behavior. The majority of the time was spent trying to explain to him that it was just a suggestion and that he was in no way bound to do what I asked of him. Later on he admitted that the stress of managing finances for the household was starting to build on him and that he was worried about their future in Australia, on further questioning he informed me that his engineering degree was invalid in this country and he would be stuck with lower level jobs until he could complete another technical course here in Australia.
Week five: I was surprised by my fifth and last visit when the family decided to take me along for a surprise picnic. Although not strictly their domestic settings I decided to go along with them to observe their interaction with the Australian picnic experience. The children seemed slightly apprehensive instead of the natural exuberance that most children would show when informed about going to the beach, apart from Ahmad both Abbas and Maryam seemed to stick close to Ms. Rubina and reserved themselves to helping her pack whereas Ahmad wanted to put on his rubber wings and flippers right in the house and go to beach thus dressed. While helping Mr. Fayaz get the car ready I came to know that Ahmad has been having trouble with bullies at school who make fun of his accent, that he has been dreading school and enjoys their outings with a relish, Abbas had started his sessions with a child therapist and was no longer wetting his bed and that Maryam had already enrolled in soccer class. I provided Mr. Fayaz with some brochures and booklets regarding part time courses and short term courses that he could take.
There were several issues and points that I observed while with the Ahmad family in regards to their reasons for coming to Australia, their interactions with the local culture and the nature of their family relations. Most importantly I came to realize about their unique needs and perspectives, their unique characteristics in regards to what they could bring in to the community, the culture they came from and the special needs that the three children of the family that needed to be addressed. My analysis can be elaborated as:
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For the greater part of this analysis the focus will be on young Abbas, then on Ahmad and on Maryam in decreasing order of significance in relation to special early care needs. The very first observations regarding Abbas were those of his interactions with the different societal settings that he had to experience. For instance his initial immigration to Australia was prompted by a drastic change in his original environment of Kashmir where he suffered the debilitating trauma of losing both his parents, in conversations with the Ahmads I got to know that Abbas was naturally a shy child and following the death of his parents he became even more withdrawn, to the point where he managed only a few sentences in conversation per day with the Ahmads and not even that with strangers. The initial experiences of the children with their societal systems were also apparent in how they treated me, a stranger in their house, the initial mistrust and fear that they projected on me was only a reflection of their past environment where authority figures or those who were in anyway related to official status were viewed with mistrust and even fear, this symptom extended not only to the children but to Ms.Rubina as well, when she forbade the children from interacting with me.
The family structure in conservative societies like that of the Ahmad family is generally constituted of only close blood relations, the adoption of children as in the case of Abbas is almost unheard of, the most that a Kashmiri family will do is provide all the necessary support and accessories to a relative but that is all the other party will remain; a relative, in this case the traditional family structure has changed to that of a typical western nuclear family model and that has put an additional load on the two adults as Ms. Rubina and Mr. Fayaz do not have the traditional family support structure in place to help them manage their children any more.
The cultural background of the Ahmad family is also an issue that has led to certain hindrances while integrating with their new environment, this was demonstrated with the trouble that Ahmad had with bullies at school and the frustration and worry that Mr. Fayaz felt at his educational qualifications not being considered eligible in the Australian work environment. The stress also showed on Ms. Rubina when she felt mistrustful of me, furthermore the bed wetting episodes of Abbas were symptomatic of elevated stress levels as Maryam informed me that he had never had this kind of problem before.
There were of course the needs of the children to take into consideration especially those of Abbas and Ahmad. The specific list of activities and processes that I recommended for the children were:
Child specialist therapy for Abbas to help address the trauma of his parent’s death and the sudden culture shock of shift from Kashmir to Australia.
Extracurricular activities for Maryam in order to enable her to come out of her shyness and gain the confidence and self-esteem she needs in order to engage in social interactions effectively.
Ahmad requires counseling as well in order to encourage better, more constructive outlets for his frustrations, bullying is always a significant issue to be dealt with in regards to early child care and Ahmad’s case is no exception but his situation is further compounded by the complexities of the previous experience in the stifling and rather constricted environment of Kashmir along with his experience in a private school in Kashmir as opposed to a public school in Australia
In addition to the counseling steps for the children I also suggested certain short term technical courses for Mr. Fayaz so that he doesn’t feel trapped in a lower level employment circle in Australia due to his degree not being recognized here.
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