Putting their heart and soul into the welfare of community, the husband-wife team of Nasir Hussain and Aneesa Williams are doing their best to ensure that migrants are given emotional and social support
He was born in Lahore, Pakistan, one of six siblings, his parents having migrated from Punjab, India, in 1947. Nasir Hussain belonged to a humble middle-class family which believed in sharing their blessings, especially in supporting others who were less fortunate. He moved to Adelaide in 2007.
“Like most new migrants coming to a new country, different culture, different language, different systems and having no emotional or social support from family members, relatives or close friends were the biggest challenges I faced. With the passage of time I started getting support from other members of the Muslim community who had migrated to Australia from all over the world,” says Nasir.
Aneesa Williams was born in to a working-class English Christian family. When she was five years old, her parents migrated to Australia seeking a better life. She arrived in Australia two days before Christmas with no family/relatives for support. “As with all new migrants it takes time and persistence but the family eventually settled and made new friends. I was then raised in Adelaide, completed my schooling and began my first career here,” says Aneesa.
In June 2008, through an Imam at the mosque Nasir was introduced to Aneesa, an Australian Muslim convert), and the two married a few months later.
Since that moment, Aneesa and Nasir have been making every effort to make migrants feel as welcome in their new home as they were made to feel when they first arrived in Australia.
With the support of likeminded volunteers, the couple formed an organisation called “Pakistani Australian Connections of SA” (PACSA). Nasir was elected president of a dedicated team which provides ongoing support to new migrants to make their settlement process as stress-free as possible.
“We provide various opportunities and social gatherings where they can form friendships, support each other emotionally during difficult times and make connections with the wider community,” says Nasir. “The core values of ongoing support and guidance are based on Inclusion, Connection, Support and Collaboration for all new arrivals including families, individuals and students from any part of Pakistan. We provide services while keeping in mind their immediate and long-term needs in three stages,” adds Aneesa.
“When I moved here, there was no specific organisation dedicated to providing support or guidance to overcome the challenges new arrivals experience in Adelaide,” says Nasir, adding that migrants faced many barriers at different levels from finding accommodation, and preparing CVs, to interview skills. “To cover my living expenses, I started driving a taxi,” he says.
In stage one, before arrival, all perspective new arrivals (families, students and individuals) enquiries are welcomed and questions answered. “The majority of enquires relate to finding appropriate accommodation in Adelaide before their arrival. We then actively source their requirements and respond to them,” says Aneesa.
The next step is to get the migrants to be part of their WhatsApp group where dedicated and passionate volunteers guide and provide information or links related to their enquires. “The purpose of this group is to empower the new arrivals and provide them a platform where they can establish friendships and identify connections before they come,” says Aneesa.
Migrants are then welcomed at the airport and transported to their destination, then helped to settle in. “We use our own transport to take them to buy necessary food items, a local sim card and open a bank account. We also provide free items where possible through collaboration with other organisations or searches on Facebook for free items,” says Aneesa.
After arrival, PACSA pays the migrants frequent visits for social, emotional support and provide printed material and information on how to access public transport, location of public schools, hospitals and other emergency contacts.
“Every six months we organize a free welcome dinner for the new arrivals, and invite various dignitaries and advisers to speak,” says Aneesa, adding that the next free welcome dinner is on Saturday, 12 May.
PACSA is also planning to organise bi-monthly seminars and workshops to equip new migrants with various knowledge and skills on subjects such as; preparing CVs, cover letters and interviewing skills to enhance their employability, Centrelink information, how the health system works in South Australia, and more.
“I remember the time, when my parents could not afford to buy a bike for me due to limited financial resources and I used to go to school on foot like millions of other children in my country. Limited resources and adversities did not stop my determination to get an education not only fulfill my dreams,” says Nasir, who in 2015, graduated with a Masters of Social Work from Flinders University. “While completing my education, I started to do volunteering at the university, with a number of organisations such as Red Cross, Baptist Care mentoring for refugees and asylum seekers, and acted as Secretary for two years with Pakistani Australian Association of South Australia,” he adds.
Anees on the other hand, achieved a successful advertising career in Australia and UK which involved establishing a new advertising agency in Adelaide and being promoted to the position of Company Director in London. While working in London she was involved in charity fundraising including: Trekking the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and Skydiving for the Cancer Council UK, London Cycling Events and Running the London Flora Light Challenge for the Stroke Association UK.
“One day I decided it was time to leave the corporate world and do something more meaningful. I wanted to combine my skills, knowledge and experiences to be able to work with marginalised and/or vulnerable people in society to better their lives and benefit the community,” she says.
Anees began as a volunteer teacher in Tanzania, East Africa, where she taught pre-school (up to 7yrs) children with extra needs, and succeeded with the majority of students entering the mainstream system. She also tutored English and math to primary school students and sourced alternative educational avenues for teens not coping with the mainstream system. “I researched alternative employment opportunities to avoid the exploitation of local women in a mine and aided in the care, support and transport of the sick from villages to city hospitals,” she says.
“While living in Tanzania I was supported through the difficult times by the Muslim community, I had a chance to ask a lot of questions about their faith and observe their practices, then I decided to study the Islamic teachings, and eventually performed my Shahadah and became a Muslim,” she says.
After he graduated from college, Nasir was hired as a computer programmer with a textile export group. “It was the proudest day of my life when I got my first pay and handed it all to my mother. I couldn’t stop smiling,” he says. Nasir then attended night classes, studied late into the night and worked through the day. After two years of hard work I completed my MBA and was promoted to assistant marketing manager,” says Nasir.
“Like most young people in Pakistan I also used to play cricket. I had always liked the Adelaide cricket ground and its beautiful surroundings and beaches. Little did I dream that I would move here,” he says.
Anees will be completing her Cert IV in Community Services this semester and hope to start a business supporting children to have access to both parents when they are living apart. “My husband’s passion to support and empower others is greatly influential, I enjoy supporting him and his relentless strive to better communities,” says Anees. Truly a couple made for each other.
‘I believe in dialogue’
I believe in dialogue, engaging, collaborating and working together for the benefit of communities to create an environment of understanding and removing the fear of the unknown and stereotype thinking, says Nasir.
He gives an example of how collaboration and connection can benefit and help the most deserving people. In 2016, says Nasir, a Muslim family was living with a Sikh family from Indian Punjab, when towards the end of the holy month of Ramadan the husband/father of the Muslim family returned after midnight from offering prayers at the mosque, had a heart attack and died. The widow did not know what to do and contacted Nasir, who arranged his funeral and some financial support for the wife with the collaboration of other organisations.
At the Open Mosque Day in October 2017, Nasir invited a number of members from other communities to foster better understanding of our faith and to see for themselves, rather than through biased eyes of the media lens.
‘Empowering women is the key’
Anees worked at the Muslim Women’s Association of South Australia (MWA) aiding clients with queries, advice and management, but was also involved with settlement programs and workshops to break down barriers, build confidence and empowerment the women. “Patience and compassion were greatly required for this challenging position, but it was most rewarding to see the ladies’ progression,” says Anees.
Early in 2010, the couple moved to Lahore to care for Nasir’s family. In the July the worst floods in Pakistan history hit and wiped out over 14 million people. “With the help of my husband, I established and managed an international fund-raising campaign to aid the flood victims,” says Anees, adding that the most joyous experience in Pakistan was welcoming their daughter into the world.