Posted by David Fallick
Last Tuesday evening 34 of the Club’s members and guests were blessed with not one, but two guest speakers, Najaf and Maria Mazari, the father and daughter responsible for Najaf Rugs and Textiles. Located in High Street, Prahran. We had originally invited Najaf to address our Club after learning of his amazing life story. However, after a brief phone conversation with his daughter, Maria, we extended the invitation to her. As she joked, ‘I can assist Dad with the technology of Zooming, and ensure that he joins at the correct time’.
And what a delightful pair the Mazaris were; a wonderful example of what so many refugees contribute to our country. After learning the skills of rugmaking at age 12, when, after the death of his father, Najaf’s oldest brother became the head of the household and school was beyond the family’s resources, Najaf escaped the violence of the Taliban, reaching Australia in 2001.
Arriving in Melbourne, via Woomera Detention Centre, with no money or English and on a temporary protection visa, he opened a shop in High Street, where, because he had no rugs, he repaired them. And this was where his fortunes took a turn for the better. Word of his workmanship spread and there was a strong demand and little competition for rug repairs. Najaf worked long hours, resisting enticements to join other rug businesses but, with no family, his loneliness was his greatest challenge. He was cycling to night classes to learn English until he met a retired teacher, Robin Burke, who became his Australian ‘mother’ and every Thursday night taught him English and cooked for him.

As if all this wasn’t sufficiently challenging, Najaf was working to help Afghans by setting up AusGhan Aid which has, since 2011, provided health and educational support to the most vulnerable. Last year it funded 1,100 boys and girls at school at a cost of just AUD$9.00 per student for a semester, $20.00 for a full year; such small sums because it’s ‘free of corruption’.
Oh, and he also co-wrote two successful books, The Rug Maker of Mazar-E-Sharif and The Honey Thief.  In 2014 he was nominated for an Australian of the Year award and had his portrait painted for the Archibald.

Despite all these huge achievements, after overcoming unimaginable obstacles, on Tuesday evening through both his detailed address and generous answers to the many questions, we were presented with a modest, quietly spoken man and his understandably proud daughter. For me it was a thought-provoking and totally humbling experience.
David Fallick