By Mehroz Siraj Sadruddin
Pakistan’s devastating floods this year have drawn a massive humanitarian response from overseas Pakistanis living in Melbourne, Australia.
Like their counterparts in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and elsewhere, Pakistanis living in Australia have made meaningful contributions towards the overall flood relief efforts that have taken place in Pakistan.
Across Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, the Pakistani Students Association of Australia, or PSAA, has launched a big Melbourne-wide fundraising campaign in collaboration with the Australian Federation of International Students, AFIS and the humanitarian agency, CARE Australia.
As this project is mainly targeting students, the campaign has so far been carried out at Latrobe, University of Melbourne, Victoria University and some TAFE institutions in the city.
According to the project manager for this campaign, Ms Arfa Noor undertaking the fundraising efforts was important for a range of different reasons.
“This campaign has helped us in showing Pakistan as it really is. The campaign is not only about collecting funds, but also is it about showing Pakistan’s people and culture, the way it is, to the Australian community,” she says.
Arfa remarked that this project provided the Pakistani and Australian communities, an opportunity to build greater contact with each other and to build a strong platform on which relief, fundraising and awareness efforts could be carried out on a much larger scale.
Another major project called Relief Outreach Australia or ROA, is being organized by a different group of young and passionate Pakistanis.
In this project, the volunteers are closely working with a local shipping company that is providing them free shipping for the transportation of relief goods from Melbourne to Karachi, Pakistan’s only port city.
When asked to comment about this initiative, one of the project coordinators, Mr Amad Kazi said, “We are sending food packages and other necessities as per the requests made to us by a local Pakistani NGO.”
Amad further mentioned that all the relief supplies which were collected, were being stored at safe warehouses, from where they would be loaded in trucks and would then be dispatched via containers in ships bound towards Pakistan.
“Our purpose is to reach out to the wider Australian community, who we know donates generously,” said Amad, while talking about the main idea behind this project.
Amad, who is also the general secretary of the Pakistanis Association of Australia Melbourne, or PAAM, informed that his organization has also so far raised $12,000 in funding, and nearly $50,000 have been raised so far by the UMMA Centre for Muslims, located in the Melbourne suburb of Doncaster.
Like many others who were interviewed for this article, Amad also mentioned about the generous support his project has received from the local communities and institutions across Melbourne.
Saad Kazi, another volunteer at this same project said that seven hospital beds, 50 boxes of basic medical supplies and other necessities up to $150,000 had been donated for the flood victims by the Alfred hospital, located in the suburb of Prahran.
All the relief supplies collected and dispatched to Pakistan would be received and utilized by the Thardeep Rural Development Programme or TRDP, which works mainly in Pakistan’s Sindh province that had seen the most devastation from the floods.
Many Pakistanis in Melbourne have also undertaken smaller projects of varying capacities, in order to give in their contributions to the flood relief activities.
One such project was the fundraising effort undertaken by Pakistani Students’ Association at RMIT University.
In the twelve hour long fundraising, which was carried out over three days, Pakistani students at the university managed to raise $800 worth of funding, which has proceeded to the humanitarian agency, Save The Children.
The association was also a part of Save The Children’s global fundraising appeal for the Pakistan floods. Regular announcements and donation requests were being sent out to RMIT students and staff through emails, internal communications, and distribution of brochures and flyers and by posting announcements at RMIT’s online student news portal.
These regular communications between the student body, staff and Pakistanis at RMIT have ensured a continuous stream of generous donations to Save The Children and even other NGOs.
At the University of Melbourne, awareness and fundraising activities have been carried out on the platform of the Victorian Student Aid Programme, or VSAP.
The organization’s president, Mr Zeeshan Sheikh said that donations which were collected in lecture halls, at bake sales and at the local mosque in that area, were sent to the Pakistan floods appeal of the Australian Red Cross.
Despite the general successes achieved, organizing these campus wide fundraising and relief efforts at universities and outside, was not free of hassles and challenges.
During the interviews, Arfa identified the lack of volunteers and the official bureaucratic red-tape at universities as major challenges.
“We faced issues in mobilizing people for the cause. People here do not know much about the flood disaster in Pakistan,” she said.
Another major issue, as identified by Monash University student Aneeka Munshey was that despite the genuine willingness to help, Australian people needed platforms and sources where they could give the money.
Aneeka and her non-Pakistani friends had also organized a fundraising programme for university students, proceeds of which went to Oxfam’s floods appeal.
“The basic aim of the fundraisings was to keep the story alive and to continue to build upon our networking with the Australian community,” says Mr Ahmed Jehangir, president of the PSAA.
“The multi cultural events were meant to show Pakistan’s genuine humanitarian suffering as a result of the floods,” adds Aneeka, explaining that fundraising activities were also aimed at softening Pakistan’s image in Australia and working with local communities was one way of achieving that.
The post-floods relief work undertaken by Australian-Pakistanis in Melbourne has provided the Pakistani community an excellent opportunity to work closely with local people and show them the extent to which the floods damaged the country’s economy.