Empowering Rangatahi: An Interview with Bilal Nasier

18 September 2018

23-year old Bilal Nasier’s journey to Aotearoa New Zealand was one most of us can only imagine. He was born in Kabul, Afghanistan but when he was four years old his parents fled civil war to ensure the safety of Bilal and his older brothers. It wasn’t an easy undertaking.

Bilal Nasier

“My parents spent their entire life savings paying a human trafficker to smuggle us from country to country until we finally reached Aotearoa. It was a four-month journey and incredibly stressful for my parents because we didn’t know where we would go each day. The idea of being caught was constantly at the forefront of their minds,” says Bilal.

Thankfully, the Nasier family arrived safely and their lives in Auckland began. Bilal was young enough to experience all of his schooling from kindergarten through to university in Aotearoa, something which he notes as being an advantage he had over his older siblings. He’s putting his educational achievements to good use.

“I did a Bachelor’s degree in science majoring in psychology, so I naturally gravitated towards jobs where I work with people. So now I’m working as a behavioural therapist with children on the autism spectrum, as well as a youth worker with former refugee youth at the New Zealand Red Cross.”

We asked Bilal to tell us more about his journey as a volunteer and how this led to him embracing his own background.

“My interest in volunteering started out while I was studying at university. I started out at Lifeline with telephone counselling and that was insightful but also extremely challenging. People who called were usually quite distressed and in tears, looking for support. It was rewarding being able to provide them with help, but it also gave me a huge appreciation for the people who work in the mental health sector.

Shortly after that, I started volunteering at the New Zealand Red Cross as a refugee support volunteer. I was a bit hesitant initially because although I had the experience of being a refugee myself, I wasn’t quite ready to publicly identify with that as a label. I took a plunge and signed up to be a volunteer and spent six months working alongside a young man from Somalia who was the same age as me. I helped him settle into the country, showing him around, taking him to the supermarket, helping him with paying his bills.

This was incredibly fulfilling and seeing him becoming increasingly independent was hugely rewarding. But I also took away something from that experience which has really shaped who I am today. I realised during my time volunteering there that being a refugee wasn’t anything to be ashamed of and, in fact, it became a label I began to wear with pride,” says Bilal.

He’s a big advocate for volunteering for many reasons: it can lead to meaningful employment opportunities; it encourages personal growth; and it expands a person’s world view. That’s why, when his mentor Rez Gardi, 2017 Young New Zealander of the Year, asked him to come on board with her new venture, Empower, he couldn’t say no. It has a mission to empower, educate, and enable refugee youth in New Zealand through education, leadership, and capacity-building to pursue meaningful paths of their choice and contribute to their communities socially, economically, and environmentally. It aims to achieve this through two main programmes: workshops and peer-to-peer mentoring.

Bilal and Erfan

L-R: Bilal Nasier and Erfan Rahimi, fellow Empower volunteer

Bilal’s ultimate goal is to become a Clinical Psychologist and work with young people who may be at risk of experiencing mental health issues either in their adolescence or later on in life. He also has plans to give back to the refugee community in this capacity.

“It’s still early days but I hope to be able to provide responsive and culturally-appropriate mental health services for former refugee communities, specifically young people. I think this is an area which needs careful attention given the risk factors that young people in our communities face as a result of what has happened in our pasts, but also all the challenges we face when resettling in a new country.” In his spare time (what little he has!), Bilal “collects music on vinyl and CDs.” He enjoys cycling around Auckland City and discovering parts of the city he’s missed “when I’m busy driving around”. He’s also been spending time exploring and learning about Te Ao Māori.

Bilal Nasier

“I enrolled in a paper while at university which was outside my usual science faculty papers. This paper was taught by an entirely Māori team and it gave me a radically different perspective on things such as the Treaty of Waitangi and colonisation. This spark ignited a flame inside me and so I went on to do a course the following year learning Te Reo Māori at AUT. Learning the language opened up my eyes to a new worldview and also gifted me with a beautiful language to express myself in. It has encouraged me to learn about my own culture and language, so I’ve begun on another journey and can’t wait to see where that takes me,” he says.

Bilal is passionate about young people having a chance to voice their opinions and have true representation at all levels. It was this that prompted him to apply to be a member of the Ministry of Youth Development (MYD) Partnership Fund Board.

“It’s great to see MYD really taking steps to acknowledge and address this issue. The Partnership Fund Board is an excellent example where young people have representation at a board level and are trusted to make decisions in regard to funding, as opposing to simply ‘advising’ the Ministry. Having that equal playing field where we can openly contribute our ideas and share our perspectives really ensures that the best possible decisions are made in the interest of young people.”

Finally, we asked Bilal to give other rangatahi some advice on stepping outside their comfort zones in order to give back. Here’s what he had to say:

“If you see something that you’re even remotely interested in, make that first move and enquire about how you can get involved. You can never truly grow if you do the same thing over and over again. It’s only when we are outside that comfort zone, where things feel new, uncomfortable and maybe even a bit awkward, that we learn about ourselves and discover things inside us we didn’t know we had,” says Bilal.

It’s certain that Aotearoa New Zealand is a better place for being able to call Bilal one of its own – we can’t wait to see what else he achieves for rangatahi in the future.