Standing where 42 people were massacred at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque evoked many emotions within Sydney Thunder Ambassadors Hameed Kherkhah and Nazir Shinwari, but, above all, they were humbled to meet survivors of the cowardly attack.
The pair joined the Australian Federal Police cricket team’s tour of New Zealand to spend four days in Christchurch, the picturesque city which is still hurting almost one year after Australian-born Brenton Harrison Tarrant is alleged to have embarked on a shooting spree which left 51 people dead, 49 injured and one of the world’s most peaceful nations in deep shock.
Hameed and Nazir, who have both starred for the Afghan community in the Homeworld Thunder Nation Cup, were invited by the AFP to join their cricket team’s tour of New Zealand to promote social cohesion through the sport.
Young, out-going and friendly, the pairs’ personalities made them ideal candidates to expose young New Zealanders to Thunder’s leadership program, an endeavour which has been hailed by school and community leaders for making a difference in Sydney’s western suburbs.
While both men excelled in their tasks, the third day of their trip had special significance when Hameed and Nazir joined worshippers at the Al Noor Mosque for Friday prayer.
“We met Habib [Habib Marwat Muslim community leader of Christchurch] and he showed us around the mosque,” said Hameed.
“He introduced us to the locals - and survivors of the Christchurch attack. One survivor is the mosque leader and we met [at the spot] where he saw the killer killing the worshippers in front of his eyes.
“We also met another survivor, named Farid, where his wife jumped in front of him [during the attack]. She took a bullet for Farid, who is in a wheelchair.”
The visit to the mosque was a sombre, but it was an important part of the reason why the pair were asked to go to Christchurch. According to Sydney Thunder’s Community Impact Specialist Jake Balnave, the cricketers had a positive impact on the local youth.
“The guys spent four days in Christchurch as leaders of their community, representatives of Sydney Thunder and as handy cricketers in their own right,” said Balnave.
“It was great to be able to send along two young men who through the Thunder Nation Cup have been able to be express their culture not only through cricket, but through their actions.
“It’s evident from their recounts of the trip that they’ve helped to bridge the gap between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Christchurch after what was a tragic occurrence.”
For both men the opportunity to discuss issues such as goal setting with school children was a rewarding experience.
“The importance of us being part of the program was explained as a chance to engage with the Muslim community and help break the barrier that was created last March when the terrorist attack killed 51 innocent people,” said Nazir.
“We attended Shirley Boys’ High School and delivered a Thunder Leadership program which focussed on dreams and goals. A lot of the students were really interested, and I was surprised that they’d never had anyone come to their school and deliver this sort of program.”
Hameed, who plays alongside Nazir for Hawkesbury in Sydney’s Premier cricket competition, said the nature of the Thunder’s Leadership course left a positive impression.
“There were about 30 students involved in the Thunder leadership program, and they were all surprised by the questions we asked and the questions in the booklets,” he said.
“The first-class umpires Eugene Sanders was at the school and he said to get 30 students for this program - and to be engaged - was a surprise.
“He was happy Sydney Thunder sent two Muslim players to deliver it because... after the Christchurch attack... it meant a lot to share stories and engage with non-Muslims to share our belief.
“We were also asked by the students questions about our journeys to Australia and how we were in the Thunder squad as Muslims.
“The teacher was happy with the program we also delivered a leadership program at Burnley Cricket Club before going outside to do some cricket drills.”
The pair played cricket for Marist Harewood Cricket Club, before representing the local Muslim community in their match against the AFP. The game was played in a great spirit and was well supported with many people attending the match.
“For me, the highlight of this trip was just being myself and giving time to the locals,” said Hameed.
“The locals told us they’d had a lot of visitors - a lot of famous people - come by, but they never spend time with them; shared their story or heard their story... so, to share a few hours was really special.
“They really appreciated what Sydney Thunder did. It put a smile on their faces.”