Volunteers supporting city's Muslim community

DCC community development and events manager Joy Gunn and Otago Muslim Association chairman Mohammed Rizwan discuss volunteer efforts at Dunedin's Al Huda mosque yesterday. Photo: Gregor Richardson
DCC community development and events manager Joy Gunn and Otago Muslim Association chairman Mohammed Rizwan discuss volunteer efforts at Dunedin's Al Huda mosque yesterday. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Volunteers are rallying around Dunedin's Muslim community in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks.

Hundreds of people across Dunedin have put their hands up to help out since the March 15 attacks, in which 50 members of the Muslim community were killed at two Christchurch mosques and dozens of others were injured.

Since then, Red Cross staff in Dunedin had seen a ''big surge'' in offers to help, with more than 50 new volunteers coming forward.

That was an increase not seen since Dunedin was declared a refugee resettlement centre in 2016, Red Cross pathways to employment team leader Jarrah Cooke said.

The Otago University Students' Association had also fielded fresh offers from student volunteers wanting to help.

A new online group, seeking to find women to support other Muslim women in Dunedin, had also attracted ''several hundred'' volunteers, organisers said.

The Dunedin City Council has also referred 12 volunteers to the Red Cross and Te Kaika health, education and social services provider.

The council had also handed over three loads of donated food, as well as $12,000 raised at the civic vigil at Forsyth Barr Stadium and another $300 given directly to the council's customer service desk.

That was on top of the $4760 raised so far by a Givealittle page launched last week by the Otago Muslim Association, seeking funds for the redevelopment and security upgrade of Dunedin's Al Huda mosque.

DCC community development and events manager Joy Gunn, who is helping co-ordinate the community response, said the offers of help were a ''wonderful'' reaction to the tragedy.

The volunteers' focus was on ''practical'' support, from the upgrade of Al Huda mosque to helping with cooking, gardening, transportation or accompanying Muslim women.

Other volunteers just wanted to offer the ''everyday kindnesses that have sometimes been forgotten'', she said.

''People want to offer to just have a cup of tea with somebody from the Muslim community, so they can be reassured that there are people who want to have a cup of tea with them.''

The council had also been chairing weekly meetings of the Dunedin Refugee Steering Group since March 15, to help co-ordinate the response.

The meetings featured government and non-government agencies, including the DCC, Police, the Southern District Health Board, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development, Red Cross and Muslim community representatives.

The aim was to identify the most pressing needs, guided by the Muslim community itself, she said. But the meetings were also considering how the same support could be extended to other ethnic groups.

Otago Muslim Association chairman Mohammed Rizwan said the volunteer response to date had been ''tremendous''.

''It's been really great for us as a community to have that kind of support coming from everyone else.''

Those wanting to volunteer could do so in many ways, from donating money, practical skills or contacts to the Al Huda mosque upgrade, to simply offering a kind word to a Muslim neighbour, he said.

''That sort of emotional and social support is really good for the community.

''It is definitely helping.''

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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