[dehai-news] (The Age - Australia) Eritrean among award finalists

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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Thu Nov 06 2008 - 08:35:22 EST

African among award finalists

   - *Lorna Edwards *
   - November 7, 2008

A TEARFUL Dr Berhan Ahmed believes he won the quinella this week.

He cried with joy when Barack Obama was elected US president-elect on
Wednesday and the eyes trickled again yesterday when he was named a
Victorian finalist for this year's Australian of the Year award.

Both events helped bring hope to Victoria's African youth. The community was
still recovering from being demonised by previous immigration minister Kevin
Andrews, who last year accused African refugees of failing to integrate, he

"I'm really thrilled. I had no words," Dr Ahmed said. "It means there is
hope for my community."

He was named along with indigenous leader Paul Briggs, environmental
campaigner Don Henry and charity founder Rachel Stanfield-Porter as the four
Victorian finalists.

Finalists from other states include climate change expert Ross Garnaut,
Olympic gold medallist Stephanie Rice, retired cricketer Glenn McGrath and
Aboriginal leader Mick Dodson. State winners will be announced later this

Dr Ahmed, chairman of the African Think Tank and head of the Eritrean
Community in Australia group, was jubilant just to be named a finalist after
spending two decades working with refugees since his arrival in Australia
from Sudan in 1987.

He learnt English by getting a job as a tram conductor in Melbourne after
convincing the tram depot he had experience working on trams in Sudan, even
though none existed.

Since then, he has worked to bridge the gap in education and basic services
for African refugees leaving their war-torn homelands for Australia.

Dr Ahmed was also involved in the Cormo Express debacle of 2003 when a
shipload of 57,000 live Australian sheep was rejected by the Saudis. As
outrage grew over the doomed sheep stuck at sea, Dr Ahmed helped negotiate
for them to be sent to impoverished Eritrea as a gift.

His latest endeavour is working with Athletics Victoria to get African
refugee children into sport. "We would like to train them to be the new
champions in the world for Australia."

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