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Afghans unite throughout western Sydney

Australian Afghani youth and community leaders in Sydney’s western suburbs are working to overcome sectarian divides and bring harmony among their ethnically diverse young people of Pashtoon, Tajik and Hazara heritages.

A network of Auburn-based youth leaders is working with TAFE NSW in a campaign called Afghans Unite! that facilitates online and social projects to advocate for social harmony.

The Campbelltown-based Afghan Fajar Association is also running camps and organising events with other communities to prevent young people going down a radical path.

The projects are attempting to overcome old ethnic divides that have been brought over from war-torn Afghanistan, typified by the persecution of a Hazara Shia minority, as well as tribal conflict between the two major Sunni groups – Pashtoons and Tajiks.

“Extremists bring in these attitudes... (and) some elders bring their old attitudes, but we don’t want that to be a part of our youth, as (these attitudes) don’t represent us.”

– Sayed Jawed Hussainizada, of the Afghan Fajar Association

Young Afghanis unite in Auburn

Afghans Unite! has been organised by Sayed Kareemi, an Australian Hazara who has worked with local social worker Geneve O'Connor to initiate a six-month pilot program that enables young Australian Afghanis to produce digital media campaigns, as well as educational and community events to bring their community together. The 20 to 30 participants will receive a Certificate IV in community service from TAFE NSW upon completion.

Tamana Cina, 26, one of three youth leaders in the project, is of Tajik heritage and calls herself an “Australian Muslim”. She said discrimination between Afghani ethnicities is “entrenched in older people - it’s important that we contact the young people and make sure that’s not passed on.”

She admits she “doesn’t associate with Pashtoons” and believes Australian Afghani internal relations are even more political than in Afghanistan. “Youth have taken it from their parents - but hopefully we can change that. Future generations can come together rather than be different groups.”

Another youth leader, Mehdi Jaafari, 18, said he was “friends with all of them” from his homeland at school, regardless of ethnicity, but believes many lose their way and fall into ethnically-based gangs on the streets upon leaving.

He wants to organise a joint Sunni-Shia Iftar dinner during Ramadan, where everyone can pray together and also plans to build community spirit and prevent violence through cross-cultural sporting events.

Campbelltown bridges ethnic divides

Old divides among Australian Afghanis are inhibiting communication and community, according to Sayed Jawed Hussainizada, of the Campbelltown-based Afghan Fajar Association. “There are lots of Afghanis in Campbelltown, but there is not participation on the cultural level.”

“Extremists bring in these attitudes... (and) some elders bring their old attitudes, but we don’t want that to be a part of our youth, as (these attitudes) don’t represent us.”

He’s initiating youth camps that involve leadership programs and peace building exercises to create a change locally.

Also volunteering with Afghan Fajar is Nasser Shafeeq, who came to Australia with his wife and four kids. He said, “We (Afghanis) are fed up with these things that we’ve seen emerge in our country. We’re here for peace and harmony.”

The association is encouraging their community to undertake activities with other community groups:  their young girls are getting involved with the Girl Guides Association, who are promoting a multicultural membership, aided by a grant of Multicultural NSW, publisher of The Point Magazine.

Ali Sinahaidary, a father of one of the girls, said it’s about working towards a future for their children.

Two of the girls, Shaima Hussainizada, 15, Rabia Haidary, 16, (pictured in the banner of this article), said they want to “try different stuff” in the country they now call home.

“Our culture is what makes us special,” said Shaima. “In Australia, there are so many different cultures here we feel like we fit in.”

The girls said they were trying to be Australian Afghanis.

Collaboration with other communities the key 

During youth week, the Afghan Fajar joined an event in Minto, organised by the area’s Pacific communities, so they could collaborate and befriend each other, “rather than having them eye each other off on the streets,” according to Mal Fruean, co-organiser of the event.

At the event, Afghanis networked with Pacific youth mentors such as Ivan Leafa, 24, an Australian Samoan boxer who teaches self-defence classes to young girls and boxing classes for lads.

“There are a few guys that wanna join gangs – they fight whoever, often amongst their own kind... I tell ‘em: ‘If you wanna fight, get in the ring and make it a sport’.”

Leafa does “a lot of stuff with youth” in the area. “I take them out to the movies and give them a place to go on Friday and Saturday nights,” he said.

Initiatives by newly-arrived Australian Afghanis are creating unity amongst each other and with other communities.

The Point

Australian Afghanis in western Sydney are encouraging community initiatives and campaigns to overcome ethnic and cultural divides

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