Bankstown local Abdullah Sankari shares "Stories of Strength"

Stories of Strength – Abdullah Sankari

stories of strength

The Westies love a good story and believe that it is our individual story that makes us human – each of us have one that is as unique as our finger print. It is in sharing the story that we come to empathise with each other and start to see that the commonalities are far greater than our differences.

‘Stories of Strength’ is a project run by Bankstown Youth Development Services, which is about showcasing local Bankstown stories, focusing on experiences of strength and resilience. These stories are generated through a series of interviews conducted by local young people, who interview selected community members. Through inter-generational sharing of cross-cultural stories, the project aims to highlight the strength that individual experiences bring to create a strong and resilient community.

We had the pleasure of meeting a wise young man named Abdullah Sankari who interviewed Ilona Abou Zalouf, his best friend’s Grandmother who grew up in Germany during the Cold War for the ‘Stories of Strength’ project. We chatted about his experience with the project and what he learnt about strength and the power of sharing stories.


The Westies: Hi Abdullah, can you introduce yourself?

Abdullah: I am a 15 year old student, currently attending Sir Joseph Banks High School and I love politics, acting and law.

The Westies- Tell me about the project you have just be involved in?

Abdullah- The project is called Stories of Strength. It’s a project that BYDS – Bankstown Youth Development Services – that was organised with my school Sir Joseph Banks High School. The aim of the project was to create a base for all the stories of strength in Bankstown and to share those stories and to get those stories heard and inspire others.

The Westies-How did you find the person that you chose to interview?

Abdullah- The person I chose was Ilona Abou Zalouf, she is my best friend’s Grandmother so I have met her before and I knew a bit about her story. I knew that she married a Palestinian, I knew that she hated Hilter, still hates him you can’t bring up Hitler in the house or she would get very upset and she is a photographer.

The Westies-Tell me what you found out about her

Abdullah-I found out that she was detained by the Gestapo, the secret police in Nazi German and that she had to escape, I found out that she had to escape East Germany and that her son was almost taken away from her, my best friend’s father. She left behind her mother and her siblings.

Her brother and sister were forced to sign a contract to say if East and Western Berlin would go to war, they would shoot her. They wouldn’t sign the contract but she told them they should.

The Westies- What did it mean for them not to sign the contract?

Abdullah- Because they didn’t sign the contract they weren’t allowed to go to university so they were denied education rights, which is disgusting in my opinion.

Stories of strength

Ilona Abou – Zolof as a child in Germany

The Westies-What surprised you the most about Ilona’s story?

Abdullah-One was that she was a rebellious school girl and the second thing was that, at the end of our interview I had stopped recording and she started talking about how she was detained by the Gestapo and how she was interviewed from 9am-5pm and they had to let her go so they could go home, she told me this and I had to ask her to repeat it again because it was so interesting, you would have to have a lot of resilience to get through and move one from what she went through.

The Westies-Do you think it changed the way that you felt about her after interviewing her?

Abdullah-Yes I think she is much stronger person in my eyes now, I don’t know how to say it but If I was to look for someone with a lot of strength I would go to her first.

The Westies-Why is that? Why do you think she is so strong?

Abdullah- Because the Cold War was horrendous, it would take so much to escape because you leave behind so much, she left behind her mother and her siblings, she left behind her education and her whole life. It takes a lot for a person to do that.

The Westies- What do you think the project taught you?

Abdullah- The project taught me that no matter who a person is, no matter their background, no matter anything they have a story and that story is something that should be told.

The Westies- Why should it be told?

Abdullah- Because people know what others have been though so they can be inspired and use these stories to create and forge their own paths.


You can read Abdullah’s interview with Ilona here along with the rest of the Stories of Strength series.


Interview: Katrina James

Photos: Katrina James