Hamida Lutfi on her daughter’s graduation day.
Frankston resident and respected community member Hamida Lutfi has been a strength and support to local Afghan women and their families for more than 30 years. With the Taliban once again seizing power in Afghanistan this year, Hamida fears particularly for women and children back home and is doing all she can to support them from afar.
Hamida and her husband Sayed arrived in Australia from Afghanistan via Pakistan in 1988. They’ve never been back to their country. “In the late 1970s (when) I was in Year 10, Russia invaded our country,” Hamida says. “We were asleep, and in the morning Russian soldiers were on the street. From that time a war had started between different parties. Lots of girls were involved in protests at that time and I remember one day when we were on the street to protest, there were government soldiers on the roof of the uni firing and one of our best friends was shot next to us. I was about 16.”
Hamida was one of the lucky ones – she went on to university and became a teacher. At uni she met Sayed, who was studying engineering. “When my husband finished studying the government wanted him to go straight to army and fight with rebel groups. My husband didn’t accept that. They were forcing people. He left Afghanistan because he didn’t have any choice. He walked at night over the mountains to Pakistan with just one set of clothes and no food. If he was caught at a checkpoint, straight away he would be killed. That’s why people do their journey at night.”
After four nights, Sayed arrived in Pakistan. Eight months later, Hamida made the risky journey to join him. “My dad’s friend wanted to take his family to Pakistan because the conflict situation at that time was bad for girls. My dad asked if he could take me with his family so I could join my husband.” Hamida left with the family by bus. “I had a burqa on, which I had never done before, because I didn’t want Taliban to recognise who I am.” The bus passed through eight checkpoints; on the last checkpoint, the family Hamida was travelling with hid her under a seat and covered the seat with 20kg sacks of sugar. “It was frightening. I remember the soldiers in the bus. I was watching his shoes; thank God they didn’t notice me.”
Hamida’s brother-in-law sponsored Hamida and Sayed to come to Australia, the eighth Afghan family to arrive in Frankston. Today there are more than 250 Afghan families in the Frankston community. The Lutfis spoke no English. They studied English and despite holding degrees they returned to uni to earn qualifications recognised in Australia. Hamida has worked as a science lab technician for 22 years at McClelland College and previously as an interpreter. Sayed works at a local school as a lab technician and teacher’s aide.
Hamida talks with pride about the couple’s four adult children. “Our first daughter lives in London. She’s a lawyer for a large tech company. My second daughter just finished law school and is working for a public health service. Our third daughter is an emergency nurse, and our son is at uni studying business and finance. We are so lucky to be here. When I think about living in Afghanistan with my three girls, I get goosebumps.”
Hamida receives daily phone calls from friends in Afghanistan. “My main concern is to help people in Afghanistan, especially women and young girls who are not allowed to work or study.” With the support of Frankston North Rotary and local business Flourish Café, Hamida has been able to hold successful fundraisers for Afghans in need.
Every night until late, Hamida is helping with sponsorship applications for families in Afghanistan desperate to have the new start and opportunities she has experienced with her family. “(Dunkley federal Labor MP) Peta Murphy is so helpful during this time. The only thing I want from the government is for them to put more focus on the women and children at risk, to get them out. I can’t enjoy my life here if I’m not doing something about people who live there.”