How Fairooz Sammy is changing lives from her living room

By Francesca Emms
Photography by Joram Adams

Featured in Capital #61
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PhD Candidate and Red Cross worker Fairooz Samy watches a lot of TV.

With a first class honours degree and a Master’s already under her belt, Fairooz Samy’s research has previously focused on critical race theory, gender, and neoliberalism, but her current work, for her PhD, is centred on television studies and digital media. “I’m looking at the impact that the internet and its associated technologies (data, algorithms, interfaces) have had on the television industry,” she explains. “Netflix’s ability to become ubiquitous, to ingratiate itself into the hearts and minds of over 100 million global users and incentivise the restructuring of the television industry, is impressive.”

Fairooz grew up in Hawke’s Bay but says her heart belongs to Wellington. “My favourite places aren’t necessarily trendy or fancy – they’re places I love because I’ve made memories there with friends over the years.” She likes Enigma and Espressoholic, and Loretta’s for the atmosphere. Laundry and Meow have both been “unofficial post-grad home bases for years.” The Wellington water front is where Fairooz feels most at home, and she’s a big fan of festivals, “fringe festivals, comedy festivals, film festivals, you name it,” so will often be found at cinemas, BATS or the Fringe Bar.

Autobiographies are on Fairooz’s reading list at the moment, “I just finished Roxanne Gay’s Hunger and Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, which were both fantastic, and I’m currently working my way through Michelle Obama’s Becoming.” When it comes to musicians M.I.A is top of the list. “Her music is infused with politics and commentary and she’s worked to bring attention to various humanitarian issues over her whole career. She’s also from a refugee background and brings that perspective to her art.”

As well as being a full-time student, Fairooz also works part-time at Red Cross. “I stumbled across one of their ads looking for a ‘cross-cultural worker’. It looked rewarding and I thought I had a few skills to contribute.” She works in the refugee settlement program. “I provide advocacy services, and language and cultural support for refugee-background clients.”

When a family arrives in Wellington to start a new life there are the big things to sort out, like electricity, furniture and house keys, but Fairooz says it’s often the small things that matter the most. “Making sure the family has a good meal for the first night in their new home, meeting them at the airport with their volunteers, and sourcing things like books, toys, and blankets for the children.”

One thing Wellingtonians can do to make former refugees feel more at home is to simply break the ice. “Approaching a stranger can be really daunting for people of a refugee background so making the first move, like saying hello, asking a question, or sharing some food, will really help.”

The best part of Fairooz’s job is seeing past clients thriving. “Sometimes I’ll bump in to someone I used to work with out and about, maybe with new friends, enjoying the city, being independent, and I’ll be reminded of how much they’ve been able to accomplish in just a year or two of their arrival and what they can achieve in the future.”


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