Awkar Ruel

Picture of Awker Ruel

Awkar was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1995 and lived with his parents and brothers.   

"We lived a normal life in Iraq. My dad was a civil engineer; my mother kept busy looking after us all and running the house, while my brothers and I attended school," Awkar said.

"We loved playing soccer back home in Iraq. But it wasn’t like Australia with sporting teams, uniforms and playing fields. Iraq is a third world country so we would play in the streets, sometimes with a soccer ball but sometimes anything we could find including soft drink cans".

"I also loved to go to work with my dad; I thought one day I would grow up to be a civil engineer just like him".

"The war began in 2003. I was 10 years old when we were forced to flee Iraq due to the fear of persecution simply because of our religious beliefs. We knew people who’d lost their lives to the war so we knew we didn’t have a lot of time".

"We packed some photos, clothes and whatever we could fit into a few bags and drove the 18 hours to freedom in Syria".

"We spent six years in Syria, and continued attending school but we knew it wasn’t home. It was like waiting at the train station for the train to take you to the final destination".

In 2011 Awkar and his family were granted visas through the Special Humanitarian Programme.

"Being granted the visas was a big relief.  We had waited a long time to be able to find a place to call home and start our lives again," Awkar said.

"When you are waiting in limbo you don’t really know what hopes and dreams to focus on as you don’t know where you’ll be. I knew I always wanted to study and to make my parents proud as they went through so much for us".

"One of my greatest memories was arriving in Australia at 16 years of age and being greeted by family at the airport. Some of these family members I had not seen for 14 years, while others I hadn’t seen since I was born".

Once arriving in Sydney Awkar very quickly settled into school life. Starting school at the end of Year 10 he couldn’t speak English very well and he knew the HSC work would start in Year 11. 

"When I started school I undertook an intensive English course to allow me to get up to speed.  I also watched videos and read to help my development of English," Awkar said.

"I wanted to be school captain. Some of the students were horrible and bullied me for not being able to speak English very well. They said "you won’t get the role, the other guys are better". But to me it wasn’t about being better; it was about proving to myself I could do it. I proved them wrong and I was voted school captain at Kogarah High".

"As a child I thought I’d always be a civil engineer, but in Year 11 I changed my mind and was drawn to architecture. I was inspired by the Opera House".

In 2015 Awkar started a double degree at University of Technology (Sydney). He is currently studying a Bachelor of Design and Architecture and a Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation.

"One day I received an email from the university about a scholarship to study in Denmark. I was very interested so I applied and was lucky to be selected," Awkar said.

Awkar was one of five Australian university students to win a scholarship, the Multidisciplinary Australian Danish Exchange (also known as MADE by the Opera House) to study in Denmark, the home of Jørn Utzon, who designed the Opera House.

"I was beyond happy to hear I had won a scholarship for seven weeks to study in Denmark. Even dreaming about the future, I never thought this would be possible," Awkar said.

As a 21 year old Awkar is already contributing to the Australian community and those who’ve helped him.

"I am studying full-time three days a week and working two days a week in an architectural firm. I love it as I am getting real life experience," Awkar said.

"I have also spoken at high schools and shared my story. If my brother and I can come to Australia only understanding the words "hi" and "how are you" and now be studying at university then others can too. I always say hard work beats talent, when talent does not work hard".

"Once I finish my degree I would like to work full time and become successful in my industry. I’d like to study again and complete my Masters. My long term dream is to build up more knowledge and experience and start my own architectural firm".

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