The SAWAN, No.15, August 2007
RAWA member Sohaila in Australia
Sohaila addressed meetings in Townsville, Brisbane, Armidale, Sydney, Melbourne, Castlemaine, Adelaide, Broken Hill and Cygnet (Tasmania)
As announced in the last SAWAN, RAWA sent one of its members on a visit of Australia to report on the situation in Afghanistan. Zoya, the originally proposed speaker, could not come. Her place was taken by Sohaila, who had represented RAWA abroad already on other occasions. Sohaila addressed meetings in Townsville, Brisbane, Armidale, Sydney, Melbourne, Castlemaine, Adelaide, Broken Hill and Cygnet (Tasmania).
Soheila in Castlemaine
Sohaila spoke about her work with orphans near Rawalpindi. Many of the orphans in fact have parents who are unable to provide for their young children, some of whom then had to beg in the streets. RAWA was able to take these children and ensure that they are fed, clothed, cared for, loved and educated. The situation within Afghanistan is worsening to the extent that girls are molested, raped or even killed on their way to school. Many are now confined to their homes for security and are missing out on education completely.
The Castlemaine audience was shocked at the conditions described and gave generously to help RAWA in its work. Sohaila goes home with the best wishes of the supporters in Castlemaine. Over $1800 was raised, and members are now preparing a submission to got to all Australian political parties asking what their policies are towards Afghanistan and what they plane to do to help Afghan women and children.
Soheila in Adelaide
During her time in Adelaide Sohaila she visited three schools; Loreto College, St Aloysius and Annesley. After outlining the situation for women and children of Afghanistan today, Sohaila impressed upon the girls that they should not take their good fortune for granted. She explained that there is much that can and must be done to stamp out injustice in Afghanistan. It was pleasing to see how many students wanted to know how they could help.
On Wednesday 8 August Sohaila spoke at a public event organised jointly by the Australian Education Union, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and SAWA-Australia. As more and more people filed through the doors of the AEU building we knew it was to be a success. 150 people had come to hear Sohaila's first hand account of the brave struggle for human rights, democracy and secular values in her home country, Afghanistan.
Sohaila told of the realities of life in Afghanistan today; of the misuse of power by government officials and their failure to respond to the needs of the people. She urged Australia to support RAWA’s struggle by helping finance their many humanitarian projects, but also to put pressure on the Australian government to insist that the Afghan government do all it can to promote true democracy.
Sohaila then answered questions from the floor, including those from two brave schoolgirls, incredulous of the abuse of women and girls in Afghanistan.
Imprints Booksellers sold books related to the topic of Afghanistan on the night and donated 15% of the proceeds to SAWA. Many thanks must go to Imprints and in particular to Ms Gayle Miller for her support. Dan Murphy, Communications Coordinator, AEU, is to be acknowledged and thanked for his invaluable assistance during Sohaila’s visit, particularly for his help with the media. Also to be thanked is our loyal sponsor, WILPF, who co-hosted Sohaila’s visit; a generous gesture which helped our planning a great deal.
We are proud to announce that SAWA raised $1,713 from donations during the evening.
The following evening SAWA held their second annual fundraising dinner in Adelaide. Due to the resounding success of the first dinner in 2006 it was decided to hold the second at the same restaurant, the Pondok Bali. Specialising in authentic Balinese cuisine, the restaurant has a warmth and colourful ambience that is inviting and relaxing. The dinner proved so popular that we booked out the entire restaurant!
During the evening Sohaila spoke to guests, telling them about the many challenges faced by the people of Afghanistan today. She spoke of the inspirational women of RAWA who struggle for freedom in a country ravaged by war, corruption and religious fundamentalism.
A wide range of handicrafts made by Afghan widows in refugee camps was available for purchase on the night. There was even the opportunity to win a free term of belly dance lessons, courtesy of the Belly Dance Academy of Nayima Hassan, for the lady with the best ‘shoulder shimmy’!
The food was great, the company excellent, but above all we were able to meet Sohaila, our brave RAWA visitor, in a relaxed, friendly environment.
SAWA raised over $3,000 from the dinner, donations and the sale of handcrafts.
By Barbara James, Secretary, SAWA-Australia
Interview with Sohaila, Member of RAWA (Late Night Live, ABC Radio - Australia, Aug.8, 2007)