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Hope born from loss

by Charlotte Knottenbelt

Rashida Siddique
In this ‘age of information’ it's easy to become overwhelmed by all the problems in the world. We know that war, poverty and injustice exist, but many feel powerless to make a difference. However, the actions of one person can have a real impact, as UniSA's Dr Shamsul Khan is proving through his charitable work in Bangladesh.

Dr Khan's story shows that good can be born from unbearable pain and the greatest loss in life. It was the death of his wife and best friend, Rashida Siddique, which led the senior lecturer from UniSA's School of International Studies to establish a charitable trust for disadvantaged children and young girls in Rashida's name.

On February 13, 2003, Dr Khan's life was changed irrevocably when Rashida and 10 of her family members were killed when their large yacht suddenly capsized in a freak tornado 130 kilometres off the Bangladesh coast.

Dr Khan was on the yacht but escaped with three others through a broken window.

The loss was at first impossible for him to come to terms with. He and Rashida, a psychologist, were sole mates who regularly volunteered to help orphans and destitute women in their home country Bangladesh. Before the tragedy they adopted a child from Bangladesh and were planning to buy a house in Sydney.

"At first I thought, why me? My whole world crumbled around me," Dr Khan said.

"I didn't know what to do so I took some time off to travel. Initially I looked for solace in various religions; I stayed at a Buddhist monastery for a few days, I travelled around India and visited many shrines, I went to Mecca, but eventually I came to the decision that I had to make something positive in this earthly world out of the greatest tragedy of my life."

Dr Shamsul Khan (on the left with the Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Lorraine Barker)Keenly aware of the disadvantages experienced by poor girls in rural Bangladesh, he decided to sponsor three girls with a $1,000 donation to provide a year's formal education in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

That would have been enough of a contribution for many, but Dr Khan decided to take it further, and with a $10,000 donation funded the establishment of a health care centre for disadvantaged young women and children in the outskirt of Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, which is being run by a local NGO (SPADES, the Society for Population and Development Services). Besides providing health care facilities, which include free medical checkups and medicines, the centre also provides free satellite health care services to the students of two project schools.

He has been keeping the centre running with a $700 donation each month, but decided to set up a foundation to guarantee the centre's longevity. So now, with the help of four academic colleagues – Dr David Lundberg and Dr Zaniah Marshallsay from UniSA, and Associate Professor Peter Mayer and Dr Felix Patrikeeff from the University of Adelaide – Dr Khan has established the Rashida Siddique Memorial Foundation, registered in Adelaide.

"Doing this has given me some meaning in my life," he said. "I'm like everyone else – I used to work to earn money to buy books, a better car, a better house and other things. But now I've got a different purpose, I'm earning so I can improve the lives of these girls."

"If one lecturer can change so many people's lives imagine what a foundation can do."

Members of the public can now make tax deductible donations to the Rashida Siddique Memorial Foundation. In-kind donations and volunteer workers are also encouraged to contribute. For more information email shamsul.khan@unisa.edu.au