Apr 14, 2023

From Gesture Communication to Kitchen Mastery: The Inspiring Journey of Deaf Afghan Refugee Emad Seyam

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Emad Seyam’s journey from Afghanistan to Australia was far from easy. 

As the only deaf member of his family, he grew up communicating with his parents and siblings entirely through gestures. 

When his family fled to Australia as refugees in 2010, Emad faced a whole new challenge: learning English and Auslan, the sign language unique to Australia. But despite these challenges, Emad has not only thrived but inspired others along the way.

Shared by SBS, Emad’s story of resilience and determination has gained attention, as his colleagues have embraced his unique skills in the kitchen. 

While studying at a college, Emad and his classmates were taught some kitchen skills by Graeme Krause, the then-head chef of The Mail Exchange Hotel in Melbourne. 

“It was a very hands-on process. I got to see and do a lot of the basics. We progressed on from there, and I passed some of my exams and the tasks they gave me. That got me thinking about becoming a chef,” Emad said.

Not long after, Emad began work experience at the hotel. However, there was one problem: no Auslan interpreters were provided to help him communicate with the other staff. 

“I was learning, chopping, and I was just kind of getting through and persevering as best I can. When we were communicating with the chefs, there were some barriers,” Emad told SBS.

Once interpreters were provided, Emad took the opportunity to teach his colleagues some key signs, as well as the Auslan alphabet.

The kitchen staff now have a system in place that allows them to quickly and easily communicate orders to each other using one or two Auslan signs. 

Emad’s hard work and dedication have paid off. He can now run almost every section of the hotel’s kitchen.

Ms Nicholson, the general manager of the hotel, says being inclusive has helped Emad transform from a “shy” person on work experience to a “confident” qualified chef. 

“He wouldn’t even lift his head to me and say hello,” she said

“Once he got his confidence up, I’d say, ‘I’m going now,’ and he would pick up his wrist and point to it going, ‘Really, you’re going early?,’ so he’s very cheeky, he’s got a great sense of humour.”

Emad’s story is one of overcoming obstacles and proving that with determination and support, anything is possible. Emad’s colleagues have learned from him and embraced his unique perspective, and Emad himself has grown and developed his skills. Emad’s story is a reminder of the importance of inclusivity and the power of diversity in the workplace.

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