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Flushing rings in Afghan New Year with library event

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The auditorium at the Flushing branch of the Queens Library was filled to capacity Saturday afternoon with revelers celebrating Nawrooz, the Afghan New Year, at an event hosted by the Flushing-based advocacy group Women for Afghan Women.

The fete, which featured music by Afghan singer Khalil Ahmadi and legendary tabla player Chetram Sahni, was also a chance for the New York Afghan community to discuss the serious issues they face.

Afghan novelist Mohammad Gul Mohabbat; Mohiuddin Sahebzada, the consul general of Afghanistan in New York; and several members of Women for Afghan Women spoke about concerns as wide ranging as evolving Afghan gender roles, education and domestic violence.

“We are a community center and the Afghan women of New York are our community,” Mehwish Sarwari, an intern with the group, told the audience.

The program, which was conducted in both Farsi and English, created an arena for the group to restate their goals and accomplishments as the new year gets underway.

Nowruz, the Persian New Year, falls annually on the first day of spring. In Afghanistan its traditions include two weeks of celebrations featuring special foods, a festival for farmers, a tournament of the horseback sport Buzkashi, and picnics to see the country’s flowering cersis, or redbud, flowers.

The event also was designed to showcase the extensive work of Afghan men in helping Afghan women, about which Sunita Viswanath, a founding board member of Women for Afghan Women, said many people have misconceptions.

“Our stereotypes need to be smashed to pieces; they’re not true,” said Sunita Viswanath, a founding board member of Women for Afghan Women. “Our Afghan men are begging for schools for their daughters.”

WAW started as an advocacy and outreach group for Afghan women in Queens in 2001, when it also hosted its first annual conference. Since then it has grown and the group currently has a man on its board and many male members and volunteers who work with Afghan women to solve problems so many still struggle against every day.

Women for Afghan Women provides computer and English as a Second Language courses and direct assistance with more personal concerns.

“Our aim is to bring Afghan families to our organization. This event is for awareness,” said Shazia Akberzai, the group’s office manager. “We have to show people that this organization exists so that we can help them — especially in domestic violence cases — and to empower women and girls.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 5:54 pm, October 10, 2011
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