When Zouheir Dalati started work at Legal Aid, he was introduced around the office as the Muslim guy.
It was 2016 and Mr Dalati had just started as one of two cultural liaison officers, who were tasked with improving the service's work and relationships with Canberra's multicultural communities. His experiences in the first week at Legal Aid shocked him.
"I knew that they needed to help to have better relationships with the multicultural community but I did not expect to face these challenges on the inside," Mr Dalati said.
"I wanted to have a chat with someone after that incident and I didn't find anyone except the [chief executive], so I went to his office and said, 'What's going on?' And he told me one sentence that kept me going for three years. He was like, 'Zouheir, we're changing this culture with you or without you. Whether you're on board or not, I'm changing this culture.' I knew in that moment that I have someone by my side. And it worked."
Last week, Legal Aid ACT's cultural liaison unit and migration clinic won the diversity and the law award at the Australian Migration and Settlement Awards ceremony, and earlier this year the unit won the multicultural champion award at the ACT Multicultural Awards.
It was not an easy path to changing the attitudes of the staff, Mr Dalati, 34, said.
"When I went to Legal Aid, I was a bit naive. And, I thought, it's about social justice and about helping. That wasn't the case. That's why they wanted to employ someone like me because they looked at their data and only found 3 per cent of their clients were from migrant backgrounds.
"And clearly it was a big wake-up call for management, for the commissioners over there. They didn't have really any idea about what to do," he said.
One of Mr Dalati's directors did not want him to read the results of an anonymous survey of staff attitudes taken shortly after he started. The results, which showed poor attitudes towards migrants in general and Middle Eastern and Muslim people in particular, were shocking, Mr Dalati said.
"So we started doing cultural awareness training on Islam and Muslims. ... So we started talking about religion, talking about terrorism and jihad, women's rights in Islam, for a whole year. Then once we realised [the staff] were ready to go out, we started reaching out to the Muslim community here. They were all happy to work with us. They were excited about working with us."
It might sound simple, but Mr Dalati stressed it was a slow and painstaking process, often hard to define. Since his successes at Legal Aid, Mr Dalati has joined the ACT Human Rights Commission, where he is the multicultural program co-ordinator, supporting culturally and linguistically diverse victims of crime. It is a role without a succinct job description.
"I see myself as an advocate for migrant communities here in Canberra, so it's my job basically to try to make Canberra a bit better place for them," he said.
"To go out to meetings, like this [interview] for example, or to go to stakeholders and to try and explain what I do, it's really difficult, because not many people [or] agencies are doing the same work I'm doing."
Mr Dalati has to contend with migrant communities' distrust of government and finding appropriate services. Multilingual psychologists are often tricky to find, with Skype-based sessions linking people interstate a frequent answer. "I would say 50 per cent of community leaders don't really trust us," he said.
Mr Dalati can quickly become a culturally or linguistically diverse person's first point of contact, and he is constantly impressed by their resilience and desire to contribute.
"There's not a single migrant I know who's not really eager to find a job. But then they go and try to look for a job [but] because of their name on their resume, they're not getting a single phone call," he said.
He said people came to Australia for a better life. They do not want to come and rely on welfare payments.
Mr Dalati came to Australia in 2011, not speaking a word of English after practising in Syria as a lawyer. He joined the Red Cross as a volunteer, then started work tracing victims of human trafficking across the globe.
"I miss the first few months when I arrived in Australia and no one knew about Syria. ... My parents are Syrian, so I call myself Syrian. I remember coming here and people ask, 'Where are you from? You have a weird accent.' Syria. 'Where's that?' Then, with the civil war, the crisis over there people started to know where Syria [was], you can see the reaction to the news that I was coming from Syria. I could see the difference between before time and after," he said.
Mr Dalati said his work was often a heavy burden. He regularly works with victims of violent crime. But he was used to it from the three years he spent at Legal Aid.
But he felt compelled to keep going because the work was important. Mr Dalati said he looked forward to the role he was in becoming redundant. "I'm dreaming, but I think I know that I need to stop when there's no need for someone like myself," he said.