Samar Obeid, who fled war-torn Lebanon as a teenager, destined for a future in mining

Samar Obeid is a testament to the power of education to change a life.

Almost 10 years ago, 11-year-old Samar migrated to Australia from Lebanon with her family. She had grown up against the backdrop of a war-torn country, but in 2006, the conflict escalated with the July War.

Samar was only young – around 9 at the time – but the period left a deep impression on the young girl.

“I experienced war and corruption throughout my childhood. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. For me this saying has become a belief, because these experiences shaped me to who I am today. I am grateful and appreciative for everything in my life,” Samar recalled.

“The war was something I will never forget. We were far away, but we could still hear everything. The city was absolutely demolished.’’

“In Lebanon, my parents worked incredibly hard just to have enough food to put on the table, and then they were usually going hungry themselves. They instilled the values of hard work and consistency in me.’’

In search of a life free from the terror and uncertainty of conflict, Samar’s parents moved to Australia, where her older sisters and brother had already relocated.

Today (Friday 14 December), Samar graduated from the University of Wollongong with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), majoring in Mining Engineering and receiving a distinction in her Honours thesis.

While it is the end of a long road for Samar, after chatting to her, there is the sense that is just the beginning of what this clever, determined young engineer will achieve.

“I’m so grateful to be here,” she said. “My parents worked their whole life to save up enough money to legally migrate us to Australia for a better education and quality of life. The day we found out we were moving to Australia, the smile didn’t leave my parents’ faces.”

Samar admitted she was reluctant to move to Australia.

“Initially, I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t know anyone other than my immediate family. It was really hard at the beginning.”

Throughout her high school years, Samar tried to give back to her new home. She juggled her studies with volunteer work, which included helping refugees learn English, teaching swimming to disabled children and visiting isolated elderly residents at nursing homes. It is clear she loves volunteering, and she lights up when talking about giving back to her community.

“I love swimming, but in Lebanon it was a luxury to learn. It was something I’ve always wanted to do,” Samar said.

“I began volunteering as a swimming instructor for disabled children. It was rewarding to watch the children improve week by week.

“I also spend time regularly visiting isolated elderly people in nursing homes and working with refugees. I have received a lot of support since I’ve arrived into Australia, I just want to give back. There’s something more compelling in volunteering then paid work. It’s a much purer feeling that drives you. Helping others makes me happy.”

Despite her aptitude in the classroom, particularly in science and mathematics, Samar wasn’t immediately clear on what she wanted to study at university.

“I had no idea what mining was, but I came across a drill and blast video one day and I thought it was so interesting. I came to UOW Open Day, and the lecturers said that not many females choose to study mining. I wanted to do something different.”

From the moment her degree began, Samar loved it. She relished the new concepts and skills and took every opportunity to visit mining sites in her first year, which further cemented the notion that she was on the right track.

“I never thought I would fit in to something like mining, particularly being on site, but I’ve realised that you don’t have to change yourself to fit in. It’s all about respect, willpower and commitment. Most importantly, don’t ever doubt yourself.’’

Samar also received a New Colombo Plan Scholarship to study at the China University of Mining and Technology (CUMT) in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, early this year.

The program provides an opportunity for students to learn about China’s engineering higher education while experiencing the traditional culture.

“I am immensely grateful to have been a part of such a valuable experience. The exposure to the Chinese mining industry was greatly beneficial both culturally and academically.”

Samar was awarded the Glencore Corporate Scholarship, with a value of $40,000 throughout the duration of her degree and work experience on mining sites every summer.

She spent her summer holidays working at an underground coal mine in Mudgee and an open-cut mine in Bulga, which gave her an incredible amount of experience before she even graduated.

Through her final years of university, she was also working at a mine in Tahmoor, while attending University five days a week.

“The support I received at UOW was incredible. If it wasn’t for Mitz Perez, UOW student support adviser, and lecturer Justine Calleja [from the School of Civil, Mining and Environmental Engineering], my last year of university would have been impossible.”

When Samar finished university, she was hoping she would have one or two job offers to choose from. Instead, she was amazed to receive 12 different offers before she settled on a role with Rio Tinto, which will see her move to Perth early next year, where she will be a fly-in, fly-out graduate mining engineer in the Pilbara.

It has been a long road to graduation for Samar, made even more difficult by her mother falling seriously ill in the past year. But through it all she has preserved. Her aim, Samar said, is to keep working hard to thank her parents for investing in her future and for their belief in her abilities.

“Going through everything that I’ve been through, I’ve learnt to always uphold three qualities – confidence, resilience and humbleness. Dream big and never give up.’’

“You can achieve anything with determination and passion. My goal now is to make my parents proud and to give them the best life possible.”

Words by India Glyde. Originally Published on UOW Newsroom