Mona’s Long Journey Continues

30 August 2023 | Media Release

When Mona Nabhani left Iran with a degree in Persian Literature, she couldn’t possibly have imagined she would be working as a dental assistant for the Australian Dental Foundation out of its Melbourne office.

But there is a decade-long journey between these two milestones.

As an asylum seeker in 2013, Mona spent seven months on Christmas Island with her sister, husband and stepfather. That was followed by five years on Nauru and detention in Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne before she was released into community detention in 2019.

“We locked ourselves away for two days when we were finally released. After so many years in detention, I was panicking in the city. I was scared to see police. It was hard to meet new people,” Mona says.

Four months ago Mona received a six-month bridging visa. She can work but she can’t study and she can’t leave the country.

Which brings us to River Nile School for young women aged 16 to 22 from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Mona’s younger sister attends the school and Mona accesses the adult learning centre.

Australian Dental Foundation (ADF) received a request from the school’s registered nurse Jacinta Bongiorno for urgent help for her students, 80 per cent of whom had never seen a dentist or had not seen one for more than a decade. Most did not have private health cover or enough income to see a dentist and were having teeth extracted in hospital emergency rooms.

ADF accessed a grant from the Australian National Council of Churches, through its refugee taskforce, so together we could provide free mobile dentistry to these young women, and that’s where we met Mona. Mona had previously had some experience as a dental assistant in Iran and was keen to join our team.

“It’s my first job in Australia. I haven’t worked for 10 years but I’m not afraid of working. Meeting so many new people was scary at first but I’m learning a lot,” Mona says.

“We’ve faced a lot of strange things in 10 years, so we’re not surprised by anything anymore,” she laughs.

ADF’s Melbourne manager Jaldi Bendaj said Mona had approached him at a health expo at River Nile School.

“We were looking for a new assistant and Mona was the perfect fit. We have had very positive feedback from our dentists and all the sites she visits. She is a quick learner and has a great work ethic.

“And she understands our philosophy. She recognises that we are taking our mobile services to those who struggle to access dentistry for whatever reason. She said to me: ‘And I was one of them for a long time’.”

The journey is not over for Mona, whose residency in Australia is still uncertain, but ADF is proud that she is working with us and we can be part of her new life in Australia.

Australian Dental Foundation is an independent, award-winning health promotion charity working to improve Australia’s oral health outcomes and well-being, for a future without oral disease. We address the inequalities which exist in oral health to enable quality oral care for those who need it most.

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Mona Nabhani at work at River Nile School.