Perth Afghans rally for culture

Perth for Afghanistan fundraiser organisers Fatema Shalemie and Ziagul Sultani. Photo courtesy of YACWA

PERTH’S Afghan community is banding together to help victims of the unfolding crisis in their home country.

One of the aims is to keep alive culture the Taliban has been accused of trying to erase in Afghanistan, with a charity dinner to help women, widows and orphans at North Perth Town Hall on November 27. 

Ziagul Sultani came to Australia as a 10 year old and says a lot of Afghans in Perth are deeply worried for family and vulnerable people back home. 

Ms Sultani says for many Afghan people here “a lot of trauma’s coming back. Mental health has been a major issue because there’s a lot of individuals who are on temporary visas. Their families are stuck in Afghanistan, so you can only image what they’re going through.”

Ms Sultani says the worst effects of the crisis are being felt by children and women, especially widows. Women lost their right to work almost immediately after the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15. 

“Widows have no form of income, nowhere to go, no shelter. So many families have lost their homes and are homeless now,” and the extremely harsh Afghan winter is approaching. 

Ms Sultani is helping organise a Perth for Afghanistan fundraising dinner and cultural night at North Perth Town Hall to benefit Mahboba’s Promise, a charity dedicated to helping women and children in Afghanistan.

The idea came from talks between young Afghan Australians reaching out to each other for support after the fall of Kabul, and then deciding they wanted to take action to help the most vulnerable. 

“Most of us are young girls, we are in our 20s, and when we talk we say ‘imagine if we were back home’. I don’t know if I could survive.

“When I talk to my cousins [in Afghanistan] it’s heartbreaking. They were teachers and engineers, and they’re nobody now, their identity has been stripped overnight.

“You don’t know what to say to them. When they tell you what’s going on, you can’t give them any comfort, because you don’t know what comfort to give.

“We’re trying to find comfort living here, but at the same time there’s a lot of guilt as well… we feel really helpless.

“As much as we can [we want to] financially support the women and children of Afghanistan, who are very innocent and had nothing to do with any of these political movements.

“They can’t do anything, they’re stuck there. The ones who could afford it, and who had connections, have left the country, but the ones who are unable to are stuck and have no way to earn money.

“It took women, girls, 20 years to be able to dream, to even start small things, and it’s been stripped away overnight.” 

Ms Sultani says along with raising funds at the upcoming charity night “we want to maintain our culture, maintain our music, everything that’s banned at the moment. We’re scared of losing it,” and the dinner will feature Afghan music, art, cuisine and poetry.  

“Through this event we want to start a conversation. We want people to remember Afghanistan for its culture, its language, and for its diversity of people, the ethnic groups who live there, for the food, the music, and even the little games that we used to play. And just the freedom. 

“That’s one element of the event: Kites. For us, kites mean freedom. Girls and boys were able to fly kites, and now they can’t.”

Afghans in Australia are from many provinces with different cultures, languages, and ethnicities, but the crisis in Afghanistan has seen them drawn together.

“Unfortunately it took this incident for all of us to come together as one. And through this time we have been supporting each other to heal, to talk about the situation, and look after one another.”

The Perth for Afghanistan fundraising dinner is on November 27 at North Perth town hall, with a live auction hosted by Perth state MP John Carey. Tickets are $80 (search ‘Perth for Afghanistan’ on eventbrite) and all proceeds go to Mahboba’s Promise.

by DAVID BELL

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