Rising force for charity

Sheik Sulaiman and brigade captain Terence Sanford. 183844_01 Picture: CAM LUCADOU-WELLS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Sheik Sulaiman is ever-grateful to this country.

In his words, “Australia saved my life”.

That’s why the Noble Park CFA firefighter volunteers, to give back to his community.

On 1 September, he will be giving his all for charity, taking part in a gruelling 28-floor stair climb in full fire-fighting and breathing gear.

The Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb 2018 brings together 600 fireys from around Australia, climbing the height of Crown Metropol Hotel.

It aims to raise $700,000 for Lifeline and Black Dog Institute for support and research into post-traumatic stress, depression and suicide.

The funds particularly assist members of the emergency services and defence forces.

Mr Sulaiman first fled to Australia by boat as a refugee from Sri Lanka in 2009, and is no stranger to mental demons.

He’s endured jail and torture in his homeland, as well as 18 months in Australian detention centres.

Because of an administrative error, he was sent back to Sri Lanka and incarcerated in 2010.

He re-applied successfully in 2012, with the support of the International Red Cross.

He gained permanent residency after further detention. With a change of government that has been downgraded to a temporary protection visa.

Mr Sulaiman is the last person to bear a grudge for attaining “freedom”.

“Australia saved my life.

“That’s why I had to give back something to this country and community.

“That’s why I choose to become a fire fighter.”

Mr Sulaiman has had to learn the language from scratch – he tries to absorb at least one new word a day.

He’s held a variety of jobs as a factory worker, cleaner and most recently in a supermarket.

Last year, he completed the 428-step charity climb in under seven-and-a-half minutes. And with Noble Park CFA colleagues Nick Stannard, Abbas Abdollahi and Adam Keselj, he’s lining up to do it again.

This spirited brigade was on the brink of closure several years ago. Now it’s a vibrant melting pot of 60 volunteers from 17 nationalities.

They are called to up to 250 call-outs a year, often giving some relief and hope to people on the “worst day of their life”.

“Noble Park is such a diverse community, just 30 per cent speak English as a first language,” brigade captain Terence Sanford says.

“It really does assist us to have members from as many different nationalities when you turn out to jobs.”

Most of this especially young brigade is 25-30 years old. Part of its appeal is that it’s inclusive, family-based and team-oriented, Mr Sanford says.

As part of training, the brigade helps its enthusiastic recruits learn and practise English language skills.

They also learn a lot of other workplace skills – such as working in a team, in a structure and in a chain of command.

“Australia has a proud history of acknowledging volunteers,” Mr Sanford says.

“And in this community – even with our diverse nationalities – they’ve taken that mantle.”

To donate to Mr Sulaiman’s climb, go to https://www.firefighterclimb.org.au/climber/sheiksulaimanseyaduamanulla/


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