Calling Forth Community Activism
Syed Wafa Abbas — referred to as Wafa throughout the interview — is a 33-year-old Social Worker and Entrepreneur. Wafa started getting involved with social activism early in his life and continued this engagement with civil rights organisations in Pakistan as a university student. Wafa pursued his master’s degree in Australia and is now a qualified Social Worker.
I met Wafa at a local café, and we began by discussing his most recent activism experience. “I am an ally of the Australian Afghan Hassanian Youth association. I have worked with them [AAHYA] in supporting the Afghan community by providing workshops, casework, mental health support as well as programs for youth and children. The reason I have continued to get involved is that I am a strong advocate of human rights and social justice. In my work with AAHYA I have found incredible joy and fulfilment because it complements the multiculturalism of Sydney and supports vulnerable groups as a community. I was able to experience how the collective effort of the community was able to enhance the positive experiences of Afghan refugees in Sydney.”
Wafa continued by explaining his belief that people are capable of creating change in society. “People often confuse social change with introducing an entirely new idea and advocating for it. Traditionally, this belief could pressure and discourage people from contributing to society; however, the rise of allyship in the social movement has changed the idea of bringing positive change in society. The idea of people stepping up and supporting each other is transforming activism all around the globe.” In his involvement with community projects, Wafa witnessed first-hand the power of collaborative activism, and thus developed a passionate belief that everyone is capable of bringing positive change to society, and most of that change revolves around simply being an ally and supporting your fellow community members.
When I asked Wafa if he thinks he was successful as an activist, there was a moment of silence as he reflected, before beginning, ‘I believe in continuous improvement and creating room for improvement. Having said that, I am particularly proud of my volunteer work with One Door Mental Health, where I was able to support people with mental health conditions and disability needs. I found my work extremely rewarding and fulfilling, largely because I was able to empower members of the community—for which I am grateful—and the stories of our clients’ resilience helped me with being more grateful and optimistic towards my own life. I am so proud of the work I have done and the only success for me is to continue walking down this path and improve.”
My next question for Wafa was regarding the challenges he faced as a young activist and how those experiences have evolved over time. “People face different challenges in their experiences, mostly based on their social location. One of the most common challenges young people face is being underestimated by senior co-workers. In my early years in the social work and advocacy space, I struggled with workplace hierarchy a lot. Although they meant well, my senior management tended to ignore innovative ideas by young people in favour of preconceived traditional approaches. I genuinely believe that every person has creative ideas which, under certain merit, should be given a chance irrespective of experience. This learning has helped me shape my own vision regarding community work and the importance of collaboration. Other than that, the most prevalent challenges in activism include burnout, financial instability, and discrimination.”
After this discussion, I was eager to hear what Wafa understood as the best way to address these challenges and make activism more accessible for young people who want to contribute to the community. He told me that he has been following Voices of Influence Australia, which is a youth-led organisation that actively encourages people to claim their human rights and enthusiastically contribute to the betterment of their community. Wafa added that “most of the young people joining activism spaces are driven predominantly by passion and are vulnerable themselves due to financial insecurity. We as the community need to support young social innovators to grow, to improve the quality and practicality of their ideas, and to help them achieve financial stability through guidance.” Although, many people argue that youth think from their hearts and not their minds, it is important to support young people and leverage their unassailable motivation to make a difference in society. This can be achieved through connecting prominent youth activists and youth organisations with the relevant policy-makers. Wafa added quickly, “another way to address these challenges is by promoting inclusion and diversity among society, as this can foster a welcoming environment to young activists from multicultural backgrounds and help support them to prevent burn out.”
Towards the end of our interview, I asked Wafa if there was one, central point he wanted our readers to take away from his story. He replied with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.; ‘Often you are accomplishing much more than you can see at the moment because you are in the heart of the situation’. Wafa elaborated that sometimes people underestimate the good work they do or the magnitude of the impact they are creating in the society. Just being kind to stranger, helping an elderly individual through busy traffic, or even something as basic as smiling at a toddler might look like simple actions to you, but it can make somebody else’s day. Great positive consequences can stem from the smallest acts of kindness, far beyond their visible immediate impact. Be optimistic and actively take positive steps, be it a small gesture or a big action, to actively contribute to your community, and together we can make this world a better place to live in.