Volunteering in the face of adversity
17 May 2022
Abdurahman Katamish came to Melbourne from Cairo to study. As an international student, he sought a society that was more accepting of diversity and celebrated our LGBTIQ communities. Soon after his arrival, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In the face of an unprecedented challenge, he turned to volunteering to take an active role in the community and make a lasting impact.
“Back home in Egypt, I voluntarily co-founded an underground organization to help the queer community feel that they are not alone. I grew to become a big part of the queer community and I realized my passion for helping others through their day-to-day struggles,” said Abdurahman, better known as Boudie.
When COVID-19 pandemic hit, Boudie found himself in a new country without a broader support network, but he was undeterred.
“I realized that I needed to connect with queer organizations. I was, at last, starting my life in a place where it was okay to be who I am. I applied to every volunteering opportunity that came my way,” Boudie said.
One of those newly established connections was with Thorne Harbour Health. Boudie quickly started helping with organising pantry parcels to be delivered to people living with HIV during the pandemic and the organisation’s Rainbow Connection program at the time.
“This gave me the opportunity to meet new people and make connections that were really important to me given that I have just moved here, and I did not know many people,” he said.
Boudie went on to volunteer across a number of activities across the organisation, including directly assisting the organisation’s volunteer program.
“I have enjoyed being able to see many volunteers from all ages, cultures, and backgrounds come to Thorne Harbour for the same reason that I did – to give back to our community and see how they can help to support it.”
His passion and commitment to volunteering isn’t limited to Thorne Harbour. Boudie has volunteered at the Victorian Pride Centre, Midsumma Festival, Inclusion Melbourne, Office of Public Advocate, and Hares & Hyenas.
“I usually visit the queer bookstore of any new city I visited around Europe and America. I left them my CV and asked if I can help in any way possible. I was later contacted to help when the pandemic started and to volunteer to deliver books that are ordered by bikes,” Boudie recalls.
“It was a great opportunity to meet Rowland and Crusader, deliver queer-related books to people all around Melbourne, and to exercise on my bike.”
When asked about how he finds the time and energy to volunteer so frequently, Boudie said, “I think I was deprived of community for such a long time that I am catching up on all the missed opportunities. I am generally an active person and I like to meet new people and learn new stuff. Through volunteering, I have been able to enrich my journey and develop both professionally and personally. So as much as it sounds like I am giving a lot – I am also always getting something back.”
Having now been a part of several Thorne Harbour publications, we asked Boudie about visibility in LGBTIQ Middle Eastern communities.
“That’s an interesting question for me. I think the stigma of being queer in my culture has made a lot of people be discrete. Like many other religions, we are raised that being queer is shameful,” he said.
“I realised that there isn’t a Middle Eastern float in Pride March, and every time I try to convince some Arabs to joining me in creating one, there is resistance. They are afraid to be seen and shame their families.”
Boudie has hopes to challenge those fears and see Middle Eastern LGBTIQ people proudly march in the future. He also hopes that other newly-arrived LGBTIQ people look to volunteering to find a sense of connection with the community.
“I keep advocating for all international students, refugees, migrants, or any person that has recently moved to Victoria that volunteering is the best way to get to know more people and to feel part of the community,” he said.
Volunteering has also been an experience Boudie has shared with his partner Daniel. When they met, Daniel had just returned from living abroad for several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Boudie said, “So although he was born here, in some way it felt that we were both discovering Melbourne’s queer world together. We started volunteering together with Midsumma, and we were able to sign up to help at eight different events. From queer women’s events to burlesque gay shows, it was a fulfilling experience for both of us to meet new people and get inspired by the many different art forms.”
In November 2021, Boudie was awarded a Thorne Harbour Health Special Service Award and in February 2022 he won the GLOBE Award for LGBTIQ Volunteer of the Year.
“These awards meant so much to me. People around me sometimes don’t understand what I am doing or why am I spending all this time volunteering…these awards make me so proud of my determination and hopefully will help me to find a job so I can have a more stable life here in Melbourne.”