Sitting cross-legged in the afternoon sun as the wind whips up strands of dark hair around her face, Diana Faraj is a vision of tranquillity.
Her jewel-encrusted sandals glimmer in the sun - at odds with the boardshorts and thongs worn by the holidaymakers enjoying the sand and sea at Huskisson, on the NSW South Coast.
“We overdress in Syria. We like all the bling, but over here it’s like 'chill' style,” she says, smiling at her feet.
Homesickness is a feeling that often overcomes Diana.
She fled the bullets and bombs of Damascus five years ago, leaving behind a city of rubble that was suddenly unrecognisable.
Aged just 16, and mourning the death of her brother, she boarded a plane to Australia without knowing a word of English - her refugee status her only safety net.
“How I felt?” Diana repeats, as her eyes drift up towards the skyline meeting the sea ahead of her, where birds playing a game of chance dive-bombed into the ocean.
It was crazy back then, it was a shock. But it was good because I knew I was safe. I knew I wasn’t going to get killed.
Her voice bubbles with excitement as she speaks of her home before the war. She reminisces about sharing lunchtime conversations with her grandparents over traditional meals. The food, religion, Arabic music, family; all a world away from the grass she sits on now.
Now she answers her cravings for home by travelling three hours to the Syrian restaurants and mosques of Bankstown and Liverpool. As for contacting her family, it's a Facebook call once every two months that is usually interrupted by an intermittent internet connection.
Diana's happier memories make it easy to forget that Damascus has been ravaged by war.
According to the UNHCR, more than half the population - over 12 million Syrians - was displaced between 2011 and 2016.
Her mother fled to Germany and her father to Australia. At least Diana had the option. People she knew - teachers, shop-owners and friends - are still trapped in the battleground.
Diana laughs freely at the little things that shocked her when she first found refuge in Australia - like the young couple kissing in the playground on her first day of school.
The antics and romances of the teens at Huskisson’s local high school are in stark contrast to the strictly all-female education she received in the Arab world.
Diana also had her own complex relationship to make sense of in her first year in Australia.
“It was an arranged marriage. He was 31 and I was 16. It was organised by my Dad,” she explains.
“It’s normal in my culture. He was a nice man, but I asked him, ‘Can I finish my education?’ He said no, and it shocked me. That’s why it was heartbreak for me.”
Diana’s slight fingers tighten around her takeaway coffee cup as she describes with fierceness her determination to continue her schooling. But her struggle for independence and education came at a cost. Her relationship with her father became increasingly toxic, so she leapt at another lifeline and moved in with a local family.
“I love them so much. They treat me as family, they treat me equally. It’s so beautiful.”
Diana glows with warmth as she speaks of her foster father, Offa. Originally from Israel, he also escaped persecution.
“Offa is Jewish, and in Syria... Muslims and Jewish people hate each other, for no reason. I used to judge a lot, but I don’t anymore. I think that’s why people have problems, because they don’t take time to understand others. We have to be open-minded.”
Working at the local RSL, Diana is prone to having verbal jabs spat at her across the bar.
They say my country is a shit-hole. However, I still love my country. I respect their opinion, why can’t they respect mine?
Diana’s brow furrows with the mention of Australia’s treatment of refugees. Her passion for the issue is patently clear and for the first time in our conversation, there's a break in her calmness.
“It’s not fair, it makes me really angry. I feel like, the government, they don’t give people a chance. And if people aren’t given a chance, how are they going to make a good life?”
Dr Lucy Fiske agrees. She's a senior lecturer at UTS specialising in refugees and asylum seekers and is just as angry as Diana with Australia’s treatment of those fleeing persecution.
“To be stuck in detention is absolutely horrific," she says.
"People have the capacity for understanding. Once we hear an individual story it’s very hard not to be moved."
Dr Fiske says the lack of humanity is concentrated within our political environment. Victims of war crimes and atrocities in Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar have become political chess pieces in an unsettling game of life or death.
“The government works very hard to not allow individual stories to gather, to try and keep these people nameless and faceless.
Teacher and human rights activist Jo Warren, is Diana's English tutor. Together they've spoken at Amnesty International events and attended pro-refugee rallies.
Jo is certain that Diana’s engagement with the community has caused a profound ripple effect.
“If we continue to handover all our responsibilities to governments or big organisations, then we won’t see change. As the only Syrian refugee in the Shoalhaven... just look at how important it’s been for Diana to have that support from the community and for the community to learn from her.”
Diana says that's why she wants to be an international lawyer - to change the rules.
Don’t just take people because they’re Muslim or Jewish, or who-ever. Be open-minded, to all people, all cultures.
Strolling along Huskisson’s sun-filled main street lined with bustling cafés, Diana is distracted by the many waves of hello from local faces.
She turns to me with her gap-toothed smile - her voice cutting through the sounds of families laughing and coffee orders being called.
“Time and experiences change you," she says.
"Now I make my own decisions. I don’t need my husband or my Dad. I can be an independent woman, be secure and finish my education. I’m free.” - Julia André @Julia_Andre7