Fatima Shafaie, Sayed Mehdi Jaafari and Tamana Cina are leading an ambitious project called Afghans Unite! which they hope will bring together the diverse Afghan cultures in Australia.
Sunnis, Shi’as, Tajiks and everyone in between can take part in the project which will open dialogues between the groups while teaching film and digital media skills to spread the message of unity to other Afghans.
After their families migrated to Australia, the project leaders discovered old prejudices had also made the journey and was now manifesting within young, Australian Afghans.
They could see the symptoms in the schoolyards through bullying and in the streets with people joining gangs.
“People don’t know why they are fighting; they are just told to act a certain way,” Ms Shafaie said.
“There needs to be an understanding between the religions and cultures and now is the time to build bridges.
“We don’t want another Afghanistan in Australia.”
By having all three of the co-ordinators from different religious backgrounds, Ms Shafaie is confident they will be able to act as a bridge and moderate conversations.
“I’m excited and nervous as it could become quite a heated conversation,” she said.
The three have all experienced, or have friends who were bullied at school by other Afghans.
Ms Shafaie said she experienced mockery for the different way she prayed.
“One day I went to a prayer room and I noticed all the other Sunni girls were whispering and they mocked the way I was praying,” she said.
While 99 per cent of Afghans are Muslim, about 80 per cent of those are Sunni with 10 per cent being Shi’a.
As a Shi’a Hazara, Ms Shafaie carries a clay tablet to use in her prayers.
The other girls found this unusual, so teased her about it.
“They felt as though I was worshipping the clay instead of God,” she said.
“I then noticed many of the Shi’a didn’t use the prayer room and I wondered if it was because of the bullying.”
Mr Jaafari said the younger generation are removed from the old conflicts and it made little sense to cling to these behaviours in their new home.
Each participant will receive a Cert IV in Community Service for completing the course from TAFE which is a valued qualification for employment in community service work.
Details: afghans firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0431 953 958.