Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Prayers for Allison Sudrajat

Tomorrow at 1:30pm, after dhuhr prayer, Canberra’s small Muslim community will join friends and family of Allison Sudrajat for a traditional Muslim janaza (funeral) prayer service followed by burial.

I never had a chance to meet Allison either in Canberra or during the two weeks I was in Indonesia in January 2006. However, I did receive an e-mail from someone who knew her. The e-mail read …

Allison was a Muslim Australian who achieved wonderful outcomes for people in need all over the world. A terrible loss. Inna illahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun.

The last sentence is the transliteration of an Arabic prayer from the Qur'an which means: "From God we come. To God we return."

The following paragraphs are taken from the press release issued by AusAID where Allison worked for many years ...

Allison was one of our most capable and dedicated officers. During her 18 years with AusAID, her intellectual and practical approach to the challenges of development was truly extraordinary. Allison led Australia 's humanitarian response to some of the region's worst disasters in recent years. She was also a bold, passionate advocate for attacking poverty at its roots, working for better schools, better health and better government.

Allison had an extraordinary impact on her colleagues both in Canberra and at the two Australian missions in Indonesia and PNG where she had spent a total of 10 years working to improve the lives of people in those two countries. She was an inspirational leader and people looked to her with great respect, admiration and fondness. We will miss her enormously.

Our loss, however, pales when compared to her family's.

In her family's own words, Allison is dearly loved and missed by her husband, Ris, her children, Jamila, Imran, Zaini and Yasmin, her parents, brother, sister and extended family. Her family has suffered an unbearable loss. Allison was a wonderful daughter, a wonderful sister, a wonderful wife, a wonderful mother. Her family is proud that she spent her life and ultimately gave her life in service to humanity.

Please remember Allison and her family in your prayers.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Prayers for Cynthia Banham

Back in 1992, I joined a close circle of friends, students at Macquarie University Law School. We came from a variety of backgrounds, and went onto work in a variety of fields. One recruited a whole bunch of us to his Young Liberal branch!

Quite a few of us were suffering lawyer burn-out. One went off to join a legal publisher and hasn’t looked back. Another toyed with the idea of teaching in an independent school and forming his own Dead Poets’ Society.

I had my own style of burnout in early-2002. One of this group of friends sat me down one day and suggested this: “Irf, you’re good at writing. You know how to sniff a story and put an angle to it. Why don’t you consider journalism?”

I didn’t believe it was possible. Going from legal practice to journalism? My friend persisted.

“You remember Cynthia from uni? She didn’t stay in law for very long. She went off to write stuff here and there in smaller publications. Now she has a small gig in the Good Weekend. Who knows where that might take her?”

I started looking out in the Good Weekend for the familiar name. Sure enough, there was Cynthia Banham doing some kind of trivia thing in the magazine.

Years later, I was helping a lady with a rather difficult matter involving her deceased husband. We weren’t getting anywhere with government authorities. The lady wanted to approach TV tabloid current affairs programs. I had other ideas.

I rang Cynthia Banham at the Canberra office of the Herald and introduced myself. She remembered who I was. We made arrangements to meet with my client in Parliament House in Canberra.

Cynthia went through my client’s story patiently and thoroughly. She checked and double-checked every single aspect of my client’s story. She then advised my client of what steps she would have to take and who she would have to approach from my client’s ‘opponent’.

I know few lawyers who would be this thorough, let alone journalists. Perhaps this reflects the stereotype I have that journalists are more able to play fast and loose with the facts. Cynthia certainly didn’t meet that stereotype.

Then late last year, I e-mailed Cynthia to get some advice about making the move she made out of legal practice all those years back. We arranged to meet, and then one of us had to cancel at the last minute. A few more rendezvous were planned and cancelled. Then on the afternoon of 7 March, as I was entering Canberra to attend a lecture at ANU, I thought I would give Cynthia a call at her work number and arrange to meet. No one picked up the phone.

At ANU, I saw my fiancĂ© who told me about the plane crash. Within a few hours, it was clear why Cynthia hadn’t picked up her office phone.

I can’t claim to be a close friend of Cynthia. I was part of a large circle of friends which she was also part of at university.

Cynthia is now battling away in Perth, surrounded by family and loved ones. Please remember Cynthia, her partner and her family in your prayers.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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