Facing racist comments while door knocking for Australian Red Cross is nothing compared to what some fund-raisers have endured. Australian Red Cross volunteer Naveed Ahmed remembers “something sparking” when Friday prayers at his mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, were interrupted by gunmen on May 28, 2010.
“It was a grenade. We had 10 seconds to get out,” he said.
“When I looked back, there were people dead, including my father,” said Mr Ahmed, now 25, of St Marys, who recently completed a degree in project management at Sydney University.
The attack on the Ahmadi mosque killed 22 members, including Mr Ahmed’s father who was an imam.
A simultaneous attack on another prayer hall killed 88 members of Ahmadiyya community, a religious minority group subject to discrimination and persecution.
When the Red Cross’ 14,000 Australian volunteers start their annual fund-raising appeal this March, about one in seven will be Ahmadis, nearly all refugees like Mr Ahmed, who want to thank Australia. As well, a large number of other volunteers come from a diverse range of religions and communities, says Red Cross.
For the past four years, Musawer Bajwa, 24, an astrophysics and philosophy student at Sydney University, has organised nearly 1800 volunteers from the Ahmadiyya community of 5000, who came to Australia to escape religious persecution, to raise funds for the Red Cross and other non-profits, including Clean Up Australia. Last year, they raised $84,000 for Red Cross.
“We feel a debt to Australia because of the protection this country has provided to us. I am grateful to this country for providing me protection, rights and liberties,” said Mr Bajwa, the director of charities and welfare for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Community. His family was at one of the mosques during the attacks in May 2010, and Mr Bajwa’s father is now an imam at the mosque where 88 died.
Racism and prejudice is an everyday issue for the Ahmadis in Australia too, said Mr Bajwa, even when they are fund-raising. Compared with the bloodshed and attacks they faced in Pakistan, though, Mr Bajwa and Mr Ahmed, who has helped the organise the annual fund-raising appeals, shrug it off.
“We are used to much harsher conditions in Pakistan,” said Mr Bajwa.
During the annual door knock appeal last year, a member of the public in Sydney’s western suburbs called the Red Cross to ask if two female volunteers wearing head scarves and Red Cross T-shirts, were “legitimate fund-raisers”.
To mark this year’s annual Red Cross Calling campaign this March, the international aid organisation released survey results showing more than half of Australian adults would like to do more to help those in need.
Four out of five Australians felt that life was good and thought they’re fortunate to live in their local communities, it found.
Two out of five Australians (41 per cent) looked out for others, including neighbours and the elderly in their local community.
Judy Slatyer, Australian Red Cross chief executive, said the research showed Australians believe it is important to address issues locally, with many wanting to take action at an individual level.
She urged others to get involved, by holding a fund-raising challenge with friends, organising a fun community event, collecting coins or donating to Red Cross Calling.
Mr Bajwa said members of his community were organising fund-raising events across Australia from Perth airport to Sydney’s Central Station and Martin Place.
Ahmadis believe there was another prophet after Mohammed but consider themselves Muslims, which is rejected by mainstream Islamic sects. They face religious persecution and discrimination in Pakistan: The law there makes it illegal for them to refer to themselves as Muslim – even saying “salaam alaikum” or calling their place of worship a mosque is punishable by three years jail, said a US State Department report on religious freedom.