Photo credit: Steffi von der Heid
Mala is from Leeton, Australia. She chose to leave her country to follow her heart and German partner, arriving in Berlin in 2007. Mala travelled by aeroplane, and her decision to migrate was a choice made in freedom and peace in order to build a new life in Germany. Her decision to move away from her homeland was not because of any political conflict or persecution.
"I'm aware that I have come from one developed country to another," she said. "I am blessed to have that freedom of choice and movement."
In 2015 she met many newcomers arriving in Berlin from Syria and other conflict zones. Mala was able to empathise with these migrants and refugees, in that she knew what it felt like to come to a new country and not know the language or her way around. "I remember those first months when I felt so scared and nervous to even ask for a postal stamp at the post office to send a letter to my mother I felt so powerless without the language - this so wasn't me at all!"
Mala committed to learning German over the next 18 months. It helped her to settle into Germany and gain confidence in herself, while opening the door for work opportunities in acting and filmmaking.
In 2015 she was involved in a "Welcome Cafe" where resident Berliners, like herself, could meet with newcomers and help them integrate.
"We couldn't help them with their asylum papers or any other bureaucracy but we could tell them where the best coffee in town is, how to open a library card or where the nicest playgrounds for their children are," she explained.
Meeting these people gave Mala the idea to co-write, co-produce and star in a short film called NO MONSTERS IN BERLIN, which gives a voice to newcomers. "We wanted to make art in true collaboration with the refugee community and tell their stories with them," Mala said.
The film won Best Film at the New York Short Film festival and a prize for the Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase, as well as being screened at the United Nations and during IOM's Global Migration Film Festival in 2017.
Her co-star Samir Al Hajjar, from Syria, is one of the people she met during 2015 and who helped inspire the story of the film. They are now working on a feature-length film that will address similar themes.
"Actually getting to know migrants or refugees on a personal basis is key to integration," Mala concluded. "I met so many people from different countries and cultures, people I would probably never have met under normal circumstances. Some of them are my dearest friends - we have far more in common than we don't. I believe compassion is the perfect antidote to our fears."