Bassima Al Hadi wears many hats – and not just the silly or sparkly kind. A chemistry and biology teacher, early childhood educator, English-language teacher and community advocate, Bassima is also the mother of five children and eight grandchildren.

A science teacher in Iraq, Bassima decided to retrain as an early childhood educator after moving to Australia in 2004. “It was too hard to continue teaching high school in a new language,” she says. “I was surprised how much I loved the change and working with younger children.”

Bassima runs the Arabic-language program at Gowrie Broadmeadows Valley, a highly successful program that has had funding extended for 2023 through the Department of Education and Training.

Earlier this year, she was also approached to take over the Adult English classes at the service, in cooperation with the neighbouring Broadmeadows Valley Primary School Community Learning Hub, for people in the Broadmeadows community without visas. For Bassima, it has quickly become more than just a class and she now helps class members navigate life in a new country, from how to open a bank account to applying for courses. “I teach them about different organisations that can support them with food and clothing, and we look at funding that’s available,” she says. “We also do cooking classes and learn about aspects of Australian culture; things like Anzac Day and Melbourne Cup. And once a term I take them out for coffee or lunch.”

Bassima also encourages members of the class to share their own history, culture and food. “Everyone will bring their food to share,” she says. “We have so many cultures and everyone is very proud. We even put together a recipe book featuring all our recipes from all over the world.”

When it comes to helping people, Bassima says she had the perfect role model in her mother. “My mum had eight children and I remember my dad was away, in the army, for a long time. We didn’t know if he was alive and we had no money,” Bassima recalls. “My mum started selling her gold, her wedding ring, to feed us, but she still managed to find enough to help other families.”

One of Bassima’s brothers was the first to leave Iraq, settling in London, and Bassima says he regularly sent money to help the rest of the family. She also recalls the kindness of strangers when she first moved to Australia. “We had five girls when we arrived, some teenagers and some younger,” she says. “I found so many people here helped me and I want to do the same, to give back to the community.

“I have lived in Broadmeadows for 17 years and I know this community. I know their struggles and I know how hard it is to find yourself in a new place where everything is so different. It’s a wonderful, connected community and everyone supports each other.”

Bassima leading the Arabic Language Program