Arabic communities tackling organ donation through comedy

A new five-part web series has been launched to highlight the importance of organ and tissue donation within Australia's Arabic communities.

When Mohammad Hawcher moved to Australia from Lebanon in the 1980s, he fell in love with the outback.

The avid hiker spent most of his time outdoors - until he was diagnosed with a kidney infection in his 30s.

“I was free before, healthy and all of a sudden I lost everything," the 60-year-old told SBS News.

“I had to accept that, but I would cry most of the time.”

His condition deteriorated. In his 50s, he began dialysis. For five years, he spent up to 12 hours connected to a machine every day.

Mr Hawcher’s wife, Ghiwa, said it was heartbreaking to witness.

“He liked life. He liked to go camping and do a lot of activities and to know he loved these things and can't do it, it affected me as well,” she said.

In 2015, Mr Hawcher was offered a new beginning in the form of a kidney transplant.

“To me, it was a hard thing because this a young man. He's gone but he's done the wise thing,” he said.

“It changed my life. I'm feeling like I'm a new man, I'm young. I look at my son and think I'm young - he's my father, not me,” he laughs.  

Since the transplant, Mr Hawcher has renewed his passion for the outdoors.

Though not as active as he used to be, he begins each day with an hour-long walk in his local park.

Organ donation taboo

Docu-comedy web series, Widows of Parramatta, is the centrepiece of a new campaign aimed at promoting organ donation within Arabic communities.

It was produced by the NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service and the NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service.

It's believed many people are reluctant to register as donors because of religious and cultural values or ideas.

Danielle Fisher from NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service says efforts are being made to shift perceptions.

“We have done some work at a national level with religious and faith leaders in Australia, including the Grand Mufti who has indicated his support for organ and tissue donation,” she told SBS.

Arab-Australian filmmaker Fadia Abboud directed Widows of Parramatta. She death is a taboo subject in her community.

“I think that's really hard for people. When we talk about death we say 'God forbid'," she said.

The five-part series explores the friendship of three elderly Lebanese Australian widows - Layla Kirswani, Jamilie Joseph and Genevieve Kahaji.

The trio has been neighbours and friends for 15 years in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta.

Death is the focus of each episode, with comedy driving the conversation as the widows remember their husbands, discuss the rituals around burying them and even talk about plans for their own funerals.

Ms Abboud says the unlikely approach is resonating with audiences.

“You get to hear their views about organ donation, that's engaging, it's surprising actually,” she said.

Published 15 May 2018 at 8:20pm, updated 16 May 2018 at 2:44pm
By Abbie O'Brien
Source: SBS