It’s over two years now since the appalling terrorist attack in Christchurch which killed 51 people in 2 mosques.
One of the victims was a 16-year-old Syrian boy named Hamza Mustafa. His father was a farrier, and his mother a teacher, and Hamza had dreamed of becoming a vet. He was an accomplished horse rider, as were all the family, and had absorbed a lot of his father’s skills in handling horses.
The family had fled Syria nine years previously to Jordan, before leaving Jordan in 2018 to come to New Zealand, a “safe country”. For them, tragically, it wasn’t. Hamza and his father Khaled were murdered in the mosque on that day. Hamza’s younger brother was seriously injured, and played dead to avoid further danger.
I can’t imagine the pain of losing a husband, father, brother, son on that terrible day.
But I absolutely can imagine being a young boy, dreaming of being a vet, working with animals, being outside and with farmers, or helping pets and their owners, or working with horses and building on the skills your father had.
The dream that Hamza had- not just for himself, but for his family- was cruelly and brutally extinguished that day. He would never live to get to vet school; his father would never live to feel the pride he undoubtedly would have felt when Hamza walked through those Massey doors. And his mother and siblings now had to navigate a bleak future in an unknown country while bearing their tragic loss.
I think all of us in those dark days felt the need to do something. To reach out and support somehow. Out of those sparks the idea of the veterinary community coming together to develop a scholarship in Hamza’s name was born, driven by some wonderful people at Massey University and the enthusiasm of vet clinics.
The scholarship is designed to be awarded to encourage inclusivity in the veterinary profession, particularly amongst under-represented ethnic groups or those who may be financially challenged.
This week the first Hamza Mustafa Memorial Bursary was presented to a fourth year Maori vet student. The ceremony was a remarkably moving event with a powerful weaving together of Maoritanga, the Muslim community, and the vet community. Hamza’s remaining family- his mother, and 2 younger siblings – travelled up from Christchurch for it.
It was an utter privilege to be able to be there and participate in some small way; and even more so to be called to say a few words. I think we all value the special community that is our veterinary community, and we know whenever we get together some special things can happen. But coming together and raising over $30k was quite unique; and being able to keep the memory of Hamza alive was very special.
By all accounts, Hamza was a remarkable young man. Kind, gifted, gentle and caring, but with a burning dream to work with horses as a vet. His father Khaled was an exceptional farrier, who did work for the Syrian royal family, and travelled across the Middle East as a farrier. When they arrived in New Zealand Khaled quickly found work as a farrier, despite having limited English. His ability with horses was sufficient.
Hamza’s mother, Salwa, is also a remarkable woman, and also an accomplished horsewoman. It is impossible to understand her pain and even more difficult to comprehend how she bears it. But she bears her loss with remarkable grace, choosing to believe that most people are not evil, nor racist, nor wish harm on others.
Salwa not only lost her husband and eldest son on that terrible day, but the dreams the family had to continue to work hard, to contribute to society, and build a stronger, safer future for themselves. One of Hamza’s motivations to study vet was not just the animals, but the people. This was a family built on caring for others. They cared for animals, they worked with animals, and they saw Hamza’s goal of becoming a vet in this bright, new country as the natural culmination on their difficult journey.
Remarkably, Hamza’s younger sister, who is now 13, also wants to be a vet. After the ceremony, the family and supporters went for prayers and were then shown around the vet school, before travelling back to Christchurch. I really hope that Salwa’s youngest continues her path towards vet and I hope our community may be able to help her along the way somehow too. And whilst nothing brings Hamza back, for us as veterinarians this was a very humbling day, with a very special family, to celebrate a very special young man.