Recognising community contribution

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Ashraf Iqbal wins a WA Multicultural Recognition Award

It’s 6.30 pm and the sun has nearly set, but in the Iqbal household, the other half of the day has only just begun. An assorted bunch of visitors, ranging in age from 5 to 62, have been trickling in.
They are here for ‘class’.
Mrs Ashraf Iqbal, their teacher and guide, gleams with serenity as she gracefully welcomes all. She will spend the next few hours helping new migrants with their issues, teaching Indigenous Australians to cook Indian food, and helping young Indian kids with their conversational Hindi.
As a teacher, Ashraf just can’t seem to help herself.
“I’m 64 years old, due for retirement soon, but my heart is so fully dedicated to my passion that I don’t want to quit for at least the next 30 years,” Ashraf tells Indian Link.
Ashraf Iqbal.Indian Link
It is no surprise that she was felicitated by the government at this year’s Western Australian Multicultural Recognition Awards. She won the multicultural award for selfless, outstanding and dedicated service to the community and multiculturalism. The award was presented to her by Dr Michael Nahan, Minister of Multicultural Interests.
The awards recognised 27 individuals, organisations and community groups for their outstanding contribution to multiculturalism in Western Australia.
Ashraf was also the recipient of the Lakhwara Award from the Indian Society of WA (ISWA), the highest recognition for community services, in 2006.
With characteristic humility, the unassuming Ashraf says, as a way of thanks, that her own life is enriched as she enriches that of others.
“I currently have 28 culturally and linguistically diverse students coming to my home for various classes and all the classes are free, suited to their convenience.”
As a dedicated volunteer she has been associated with several government, social, not-for-profit organisations in Perth and other parts of WA, also teaching these languages along with the Qur’an for those interested.
For this, she has won the hearts and smiles of many friends from diverse backgrounds.
It is hard not to be struck by the calmness, the poise and the sheer wisdom with which Ashraf speaks, as she tells her own story.

“An Indian by origin, I moved to Australia in 1988 from Kenya where I lived after marriage. My husband was a lab chemist in a mining company. We decided to make Perth our home in 1995. I was a teacher in India and when I moved here, I had to rule out full time teaching options to look after my two young sons.”

Yet she took to teaching in a different way, by reaching out to Indigenous groups, outback cattle station owners, miners, teachers and civil servants – anyone who was interested in learning what she had to offer. What started as a desire to provide free food to the homeless later kindled her spirit into teaching them cooking instead and so began her relentless teaching venture and experimenting with Indian spices, culture and languages on Australian soil.
“Today, my boys are all grown up, I have a lovely daughter-in-law and grandchildren too. My family has never stopped standing by my passion and choices,” Ashraf says.
Having a minor vision defect that holds her back from securing a driver’s licence, she relies completely on public transport and driving support from her husband and helpful sons.
Mrs Iqbal, an active member of the Hindi Samaj in WA, is also a dedicated volunteer involved with Indian, Pakistani, Arabic and Turkish communities in WA. A linguist of sorts, she can speak, read and write Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian Marathi, Gujarati and English.
An ardent believer in clear communication, she believes that trouble can be ruled out when all are open and honest with their words. On a daily basis, she is approached by students who face barriers and cultural differences and all she has to do is drill unchallenging confidence into them, helping them maintain their self-identity and dignity.
“It’s so common to hear of racial discrimination everywhere,” she says. “I have never been a victim of discrimination ever; it’s all in the actions and mindset.”
While at ISWA, Ashraf planned and initiated the annual Diwali Festival Program on a grand scale for Indians and broader communities to interact, setting aside all religious differences and breaking up all stereotypes associated with women and Islam.
In a recent project, Ashraf has been involved with fund raising activities in the Turkish community, by participating in the operation of the Turkish food stall in Wellington Square in the evenings.
She seems to have boundless energy.
“When the spirit is willing, why should the body give up?” she asks with a gentle smile. “If all of us start thinking beyond our own families and devote time for at least one child, or one stranger in need, that’s enough to make all the difference.”
Amen to that.

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