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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 31, 2011

“Everyone is pretty much white”
Embracing diversity in Voorheesville

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Like the other patrons of the Voorheesville Mobil station, Dianne Luci was charmed by the family who bought it a year ago.

“I thought, ‘If everybody could be like this — what a wonderful world,’” she said of the way that Safder Ali and his family from Pakistan have been embraced by the community.

Two weeks after Ali’s daughter, Azmat, gave birth to her first child in December, she suffered a stroke.  “They do really care,” Ali said of the community, which raised money for her recovery and made her a prayer quilt.  The family donated that money, with $100 from Ali, to the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, said Zia Rehman, Azmat’s husband who works with his father-in-law at the store.

Inspired by Ali’s family, Luci has put together a panel to discuss religion and multiculturalism at the Methodist Church in Voorheesville, where she is a parishioner.

“In Voorheesville… we’re very homogenous.  Everyone is pretty much white,” said Luci, a retired dental hygienist.  The kids who grow up here will one day go out into the world where that won’t always be the case, she said, and they should be prepared for that.

In 1992, Luci started traveling and has found that part of what she likes about travel is meeting different people from around the world.  She’s been to Peru, Belgium, Holland, and Italy, among other places.

Her trip to the Galapagos Islands, famous from the research of Charles Darwin, was her favorite.  “The wildlife there has never had any predators so they are not afraid of you… Just to be so close and appreciate both the good and the bad of nature is awesome,” she said.

Her hope is to bring people from different cultures and religions together to find their similarities and differences and appreciate both.

People from different cultures practice different religions, Rehman said, “But I believe we share the same God.”  As a Muslim, he said, he believes there is one God, as do Christians and Jews.  “That is the common thing we all share,” he said, adding that the followers of each religion believe in their own book and their own prophets.

At the deepest level, Ali said, “All the religions are the same,” adherents to different religions have different ways of practicing.

New York is a diverse state, said Ali, who arrived in New York City about 25 years ago.  He worked there for years in convenience stores and as a taxi driver before bringing his family from Pakistan and settling in Colonie, where they have lived for 15 years.  His first impression of Voorheesville, he said, was “heaven on earth.”

Rehman, who was a technician for the air force in Pakistan, likes relating to the people who come to the store, most of whom are regulars.  “Change is good every once in a while,” he said of switching occupations and shedding bosses by owning a business.

“It’s a better life,” Ali said of immigrating to America.  “It’s no hidden truth — the U.S. is a good country.”

Ali and Rehman will both sit on the panel Luci has organized, as will Reverend Charlie Yang, pastor at Voorheesville’s Methodist church who grew up in South Korea; Stella Suib, of the B’nai Shalom Temple; Ryan and Jessica Duval, of the Tenzin Gyatso Institute; and Jyoti Swaminathan, of the Latham Hindu Temple.

After the discussion, which will start at 3 p.m. on April 3, there will be a potluck dinner in the church’s social hall, at 68 Maple Ave. in Voorheesville.  That way, Luci said, people can “really rub elbows” and get to know each other.

“If we’re going to have world peace, it’s got to start with every one of us,” she said.  “World peace is going to have to start one person at a time.”

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