Meet Maie Sufan, engineer, mother, humanitarian and our Senior Supporter Relations Coordinator here at Islamic Relief Australia.
In 2017, she started her journey with Islamic Relief Australia as a volunteer. Maie’s passion for helping others, her endless enthusiasm and bubbly personality meant that she would soon become a favourite among staff, the local community and donors. So, when an opportunity became available for Maie to become a member of the Islamic Relief family permanently, she knew she had to take it.
Charity is something very dear to Maie’s heart. Coming from Syria to Australia before the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, she has seen firsthand the devastating impact war has had on her homeland and its people. She recalls a Syria very different to the one that currently exists; one untainted by images of death, destruction and unimaginable tragedy. Instead, she remembers a country rich in culture and history – city streets lit up by loud chatter, bustling street markets, lively restaurants and historical monuments that date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Now, when she visits, the contrast is remarkable: streets littered with rubble, people fleeing their homes, families struggling to make ends meet and a pervasive sense of helplessness with a war that seemingly has no end in sight. For Maie, each visit back home has become an important reminder of why her work matters, now more than ever.
“Seeing the situation of people back home reminds me that there’s so much we can do to help those less fortunate. I’m constantly seeking out ways to help in whatever way I can…it’s not always about money.” That’s why as well as her day job at Islamic Relief, Maie is working towards a PhD in Engineering – her research focuses on creating a low-cost sustainable housing model for elderly migrant communities in Australia. On top of this, she spends time mentoring the young volunteers she works with as well as her colleagues.
Maie credits her parents for her relentless drive and overwhelming desire to help others. “When I was a child I would see people struggling around me and I would often question why their situation was different to mine…it was something I was always conscious of. My dad played a huge role; he was a board member for a charity in Syria and he always used to say ‘To work with a charity, you really have to love to give’. He actually used to work on a program for orphans and he led renovations for our local orphanage. I remember when he passed away, the orphans who lived there were so devastated,” she recalls.
Her father’s work with orphans is just one of the many reasons Maie is so passionate about the plight of vulnerable children and supporting orphans: “It is a bigger reward than anything else; it is sadaqah jariyah, it is Sunnah, it’s building life-skills and creating a better future for children who have no one and are often forgotten.”
“I was lucky because my parents worked hard to make sure my older sister and I were comfortable growing up – my mother worked at the Syrian Central Bank and my father worked at the local port as a trader. You don’t choose the situation you are born into. Alhamdulillah I was blessed, but kids born into war or poverty, some without one or both parents, aren’t able to enjoy the simple things we take for granted… like going to school and getting an education.”
Maie says her father always emphasised the importance of education, which has helped her get where she is today. “My father always taught me that education should always be a top priority in life, and that’s why I’m always seeking to learn.”
While the Maie we see today is soft spoken and gentle in nature, this wasn’t always the case. “I remember as a child I was quite naughty – I would cause trouble in my neighbourhood, I would play soccer with the boys and ride my bike around the streets but my parents always kept a close eye on me. They taught me the importance of hard work…I can’t imagine not having them to guide me. This is a reality for many vulnerable children around the world, sadly.”
Often working long hours and volunteering during her personal time, Maie says what inspires her to keep going is her faith and making her parents and children proud.
“Whenever I do something well, I really feel Allah SWT’s presence. Sometimes I can also sense my dad watching over me – I feel like he’s proud of me, and that’s a really nice feeling.
“I want to do right by my kids and my parents. I want to leave a positive legacy for my kids and be someone they look up to. I want to show that Muslim women can do and achieve anything they want to. The only barriers we have are in our head.”
When asked what the best piece of advice she has ever received is, she says:
“A donor I really respect and adore once told me: ‘My donations are my mortgage for my house in the Akhirah (afterlife).’ That really touched me and motivates me to do my best every single day. So, now everything I do, I do it to prepare for my Akhirah.”