By Mark Brolly
14 February 2022
Herself helped by others in a time of dire need, the Reverend Hoda Ameri’s work has been a beacon of hope for many during the pandemic.
During the COVID-19 crisis Ms Ameri and her husband the Reverend Kaveh Hassanzadeh have helped thousands of people through the work of the Anglican Emmanuel Iranian Church in Dandenong.
In the last five months of 2021 alone the church supported more than 1000 individuals and families, many with unclear visa status.
The church had always provided emergency relief to support Farsi-speaking youth, children and families.
But this grew with Victorian government emergency relief grant funding during the pandemic.
Ms Ameri said the project had empowered the ethnic and multicultural communities, allowing the church to stand next to the vulnerable in Farsi-speaking communities, and help them.
She said they believed it was the first time any Australian government had empowered a Farsi-speaking cultural organisation to help people in need.
“We believe on the basis of feedback that we received that this way is the best way that government can help people from different cultures,” Ms Ameri said.
“People have the confidence to share their struggle, need, and challenges. On the other hand, the organisation can understand their needs, examine their need, and provide for them accordingly.”
Ms Ameri’s own background includes being helped during a time of great need.
Ms Ameri and Mr Hassanzadeh, fled Iran 10 years ago. They had reached Indonesia in a “helpless” state when she encountered an Iranian Christian family. She had been taught that Christians were unclean. But this family was like light in the darkness.
“I found they were different to anyone I had ever met, they helped us and showed us true love,” Ms Ameri said in the Melbourne Anglican Foundation bequest brochure.
“They were like a light in the darkness and that light grabbed my attention, I wanted that light.”
The assistance offered at the Emmanuel church included counselling and mental health support, pastoral care and specific classes to help those in need communicate, such as computer classes.
Ms Ameri said that although the need was greater than the numbers reached by Emmanuel, this project was a significant start, which brought hope and joy for those who were vulnerable and felt left out. The congregation is awaiting a decision on whether government funding will continue this year.
“We are encouraged to continue to serve them in our capacity even when this project is finished,” she said.
“I think the most vulnerable people during this time were people whose visa status is not clear or who are on a three-year or five-year visa. Most of these people did not have a permanent job even before the pandemic.
“So, you can imagine when COVID hit the economy who are the first people that lost their jobs – not just lost their job, but most of them are not eligible to receive any benefit or support from the government, or if they are eligible, many of them did not know how they can reach these kinds of support or even how to apply.”
Emmanuel Iranian Church members come from all over Melbourne, with a second congregation meeting in Keilor.
“For the state government project, we had requests for help from all over Melbourne – from Geelong to Cranbourne and from St Albans to Preston,” Ms Ameri said.
“During the lockdown we delivered emergency help to all these regions.”