From a refugee camp to helping others – meet Delnia

For the judges of the 2023 Governor’s Multicultural Awards – which recognise outstanding South Australians who promote multiculturalism – 29-year-old Delnia “exemplifies resilience, service and commitment”.

Despite her tough start in life, she’s now pouring her heart and soul into helping others and making a difference to the South Australian community.

“I’m so grateful for where I’m at now, and I feel like if I hadn’t gone through what I did I wouldn’t be able to do the things I am achieving today,” says the Youth Award winner. And Delnia’s certainly achieving a lot.

A safe South Australian haven 

Delnia was five when she came to Adelaide in 2000 with her parents, grandma and brother. Her family was the first to be accepted by Australia as Kurdish refugees from the Al Tash camp in Iraq.

“Kids remember so much. I certainly remember growing up with no toys and the sounds of war in my ears. It was just desert and bombs and missiles over your head,” she says.

“We will never, ever be able to give back to Australia what it’s given us. It’s literally given us a second chance for life again. What better gift could there ever be than coming from those living conditions to this, and being able to make a second life for ourselves?”

But for Delnia and her family, Australia was a huge culture shock at first. “We hadn’t even seen buildings before, and we’d never really had medical attention,” she says. “When we arrived, there was lots of medical assessments and checks. It was a huge shock. Now I understand why they needed to do it, but at the time, it was very intrusive.”

A passion for midwifery

This has fuelled her passion to help immigrant and refugee women understand the healthcare system, so they feel empowered when they access it.

But the driving force behind her decision to specialise in midwifery is the horrific experience Delnia’s mother went through when she was pregnant for the first time with Delnia’s older brother. The details of her pregnancy and delivery experience in the refugee camp are almost too heart-rending to relate.

“My auntie picked up my brother and rubbed him down – he was alive for half an hour,” Delnia says. “Then [the medics] announced his time of death, and mum was immediately discharged, still bleeding so heavily that she was unable to stand up for weeks,” Delnia says.

“You can just imagine what that trauma was like for her. She wasn’t able to hold her child and say goodbye. She was denied the chance to grieve. That was what really drove me to pursue the midwifery side of things.”

Making a difference 

After coming to Adelaide and starting school here, Delnia always knew she wanted a career working with kids and newborns. She also loves studying. “After growing up without education, I just make the most of it while I can.” Her degrees so far are a Bachelor of Health Science, a Master’s in Clinical Nursing, and a midwifery degree.

“I’m so grateful that I did them because they’ve led me to where I am at the moment and I’m just so passionate about midwifery care, antenatal care and migrants and refugees’ experiences in health care and maternity,” she says.

Since 2020, she’s worked as a registered nurse/midwife at the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network (NALHN), which she loves. Last year, she undertook a quality improvement project within her workplace, reviewing the current information available for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women about healthcare during and after pregnancy.

Breaking down barriers

“I just found a gap in the resources,” Delnia, pictured above with her award, says. “Studies have shown that CALD women have higher rates of pregnancy and labour complications, stillbirths, neonatal deaths and babies born with congenital abnormalities.”

Because of that, she decided to continue her studies, while continuing to juggle her midwifery work and motherhood. Her Honours thesis is all about how she can develop resources that are culturally appropriate, using a co-design approach that includes CALD women in the process.

“There are so many barriers that CALD women experience when accessing health care – there are language barriers, barriers with interpreting services and barriers because sometimes it’s hard for healthcare workers to understand cultural differences that are important for treating these women.”

Drawing on her experience to help others

“Being a refugee means you’ve experienced so much stress in your life and you’re so vulnerable. It can sometimes feel a bit debilitating when you access health services that you haven’t had much experience with, especially if you’ve experienced sexual violence,” she says.

“I just want to help women to have one less stress when they need to access the health service. I know I can’t change the whole entire world, but if I can change at least one woman’s life through my resources and education, then I feel like I’ve achieved something in my life.”

This is just the start of Delnia’s mission to help the women who fall through the healthcare gaps. “I am really hoping to do go on to my PhD and look more deeply into models of healthcare for women who’ve experienced trauma.”

“I just really want women to feel empowered, and in control of the resources, hopefully, that will come to life from my research eventually. But the first step is for them to be aware of our services and why they’re needed. I want them to understand what’s going on while we do procedures or scans, so they don’t feel overwhelmed.”

A surprise award

Delnia’s win at the 2023 Governor’s Multicultural Awards was a complete surprise. “I didn’t expect it. I felt so honoured and grateful to receive it. Just to be among such inspiring people with the same passion for diversity and multiculturalism within Australia felt incredible. I certainly don’t do what I do for any recognition. I’m just truly very, very passionate about what I do. That’s why I do it.”

Delnia says she hopes she can inspire other people to nominate for the awards. “It’s a great chance to continue to bring awareness about the importance of diversity in Australia.”

If you know a South Australian who’s passionate about making a positive contribution to multiculturalism and promoting intercultural understanding in our culturally diverse state, keep an eye out for when nominations open later this year for the 2024 awards – including the youth category for those under the age of 30.

Read more about the Governor’s Multicultural Awards, how to nominate and all of this year’s winners here.

This story originally appeared on The Post - a media partnership between the Government of South Australia and Solstice Media to inform young South Australians about the policies that underpin issues affecting their lives.

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