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Mariam Issa

Author, Social Commentator, Social Issues

Mariam Issa is a visionary storyteller and delivers a story of determination and strength that is uniquely inspirational.

As an author and renowned speaker, Mariam tailors her talks to the interests of her audiences, and has spoken about a wide variety subjects including leadership, community building, culture and diversity, gender issues, social justice, social inclusion and cohesion, as well as advocacy on FGM.

Mariam Issa’s refugee experience is a powerful and positive one.

It’s a journey of inspiring resilience and strength and one she is happy to share through her book ‘A RESILIENT LIFE’. When she arrived in Melbourne from her Somali homeland in 1998, she had a husband, four children and a fifth on the way, with little knowledge of Australian life, other than the motivation to provide a secure, safe future with her family. In her book Mariam talks of her experiences of integration, refugee issues, new beginnings and the power of community.

In 2012 Mariam launched RAW (Resilient Aspiring Women) – a not-for-profit organisation to create better social environments for all women. RAW is a platform, a community garden and a meeting place for all women in her backyard Brighton home. ‘Through Community, Culture and Cuisine’, one of RAW’s popular workshops Mariam uses again her love for food and shares the flavours of her East African heritage. Previously Mariam owned a successful catering and cooking class business, aimed at showcasing and educating the main stream community about the wealth of other nations.

Food is a great catalyst to create social change and Mariam feels privileged she can use this power to her advantage and connect communities.

“I share my traditional East African menus with Australians so we can come together and help make a difference” she says.

Mariam has appeared on SBS, Channel 7, ABC Radio, Community Radio, in the Herald Sun, The Australian, local press and RACV Magazine and was recently awarded the Ambassador of Peace award from the Universal Peace Federation – in recognition of her ongoing work as a tireless community worker promoting peace and harmony in Melbourne’s culturally diverse population.

“From where I began, I have reinvented myself and evolved. I want to share my knowledge and experience with others,” she says.

Today, firmly established in the tight-knit bayside suburb of Brighton, Mariam shares her stories widely and very passionately about holistic integration, social justice, women issues and strengthening communities.

Where were you born?

Kismayu, a small town five hundred kilometers south of Mogadishu, Somalia.

What other jobs have you had? 

When I first came to Australia I worked as an interpreter and translator in Somali, Swahili and English. I then became a social entrepreneur. My first business, CookwithMariam, taught authentic African cooking to a western audience. In 2008 I started speaking on stage, and in 2012 I became an author and co-founder of R.A.W (Resilient Aspiring Women), a not for profit organisation aiming to create better social environments for all women through a community garden.

What themes are recurring in your work? 

Refugees, asylum seekers, social justice, social cohesion, community, leadership, resilience, cultural awareness, food security, sustainability, integration and human rights issues.

What have been the highlights of your career?

Becoming a powerful voice for women everywhere, and reconnecting to the strong belief I held as a child, that all women, regardless of culture, creed, or background, need someone to believe in them and support them. Through my own experiences and work I’ve discovered the immense potential of women to be true – and when nurtured, has the ability to shine and prosper, and I choose to ignite this path with others now.

Where have your works been published?

I’ve self published my work – an autobiography, A Resilient Life.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about visionary storytelling – to inspire and be inspired to imagine and create the world we want and deserve together.

Haven’t I seen you before?

Story tellers are very public people and don’t shy from attracting attention to themselves – so we might have met at a bus stop and would have missed our bus while deeply engrossed in a story. Or maybe you’ve seen me behind the screen – ABC’s Gardening Australia, Channel Seven while cooking with Andrew Gaze, Channel Ten’s Ready Steady Cook, or on SBS’s thought provoking Insight. I’ve also been featured in The Age, The Australian, Herald Sun, local press and RACV Magazine.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I would like to share a quote from my book A Resilient Life:

“In the same way a spring garden runs riot with the colour of its different blossoms, I’ve faith for a future where we’re proud of the vista of our landscape. A future where ego and self are moulded over the greater consideration of the human value, so that we may defend the dignity and safety of those whom we share our planet.”

Testimonials

Mariam was great, she was engaging, captivating and relevant. The students were absorbed for the whole hour as one student said,
“She has opened my eyes to the capabilities of just one person, and the opportunities that I can take hold of if I put my best foot forward and strive to be the best I can be.”

—S. Carey, Mentone Grammar School, November 2015

Mariam Issa is a Somali born visionary storyteller who speaks about her life journey including taking opportunities and overcoming obstacles. She spoke about her passions including social justice and cultural awareness, food, sustainability, resilience and the power of community to name a few. Mariam very cleverly integrated these themes into her storytelling and encouraged students to discover their interests and find meaning in whatever they choose to do in life. Students came away with a clearer understanding of community and social awareness and the need to extend their knowledge beyond their own personal experiences. “She has opened my eyes to the capabilities of just one person, and the opportunities that I can take hold of if I put my best foot forward and strive to be the best I can be.

—Year 9 Student, Mentone Grammar, November 2015

Mariam has a beautiful and inspiring outlook on life, and a rare ability to share her values and ideals with an audience. Her life story is extraordinary; characterised by an unwavering determination to gain an education, make a contribution, support her family and build a sense of community. Born in Somalia, raised in Kenya and relocated to Australia as a refugee, Mariam has a rich cultural heritage and an array of inspiring stories, which readily connect and resonate with people. I have no hesitation in recommending her to any organisation looking for an engaging speaker.

—N. Jessup, Director of Leadership, Melbourne Grammar School

I wanted to express how moving and powerful Mariam’s speech was last Wednesday! Out of all the speakers you have had over the years, none have been so emotionally charged, for me personally.

The content was perfect for the times we are living in, with disease & wars (Palestine/Israel, Ukraine/Russia, Syrian/Iraq Militants, West Africa outbreak of Ebola etc) her words of peace and one world just made me cry.

I could not stop the tears running down my face.

—K. Balla, Administrative Services Coordinator Facilities & Services Division, Monash University

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