This is a story of one boy’s childhood and youth.
Reza is a boy of a big heart and great desire for art and life. He was born in Afghanistan in a very poor family and can barely remember his earliest childhood. He remembers that his family was poor, that they were often hungry, that his father worked away from home so that he could hardly see him. His mother was his only consolation.
When he was only eight his childhood was stopped. His uncle took him from war-torn Afghanistan to Iran, in a search for better life. However, bad luck followed him in Iran as well. He lived in hard conditions. Every day he struggled to survive. He collected cardboard and secondary raw materials, and working hard and dangerous manual work… He spent many years of his childhood surviving alone on the streets of Iran cities. He did not have a childhood as we in Europe are imagining that all children should have.
Despite a broken heart, abandoned and forgotten, he found the strength to fight for a better life. He was still a small boy when he stared working on construction sites in Iran. He worked at dangerous heights without protective equipment, walking on beams and carrying construction materials. He broke his arm when he fell from the building he was working on. The fracture was severe, and for the bone to heal, doctors in emergency installed a metal rail during the operation of his arm. However, that rail remained there much longer than it should (until he finds shelter in the Pedro Arrupe Integration House in Belgrade). As he could no longer earn a living due to injury, together with a friend he met on the construction site, they decided to set off for Europe. On a life-changing journey. On the route where he’s faith in better life will be tested again. From arriving in Turkey and working in the crop fields, over illegal border crossing, and hiding from gangs on the migration route… Hunger, thirst, fever… He faced all again.
In 2017, he arrived in Serbia. He was not sure where he was, when Police rescued him from the basement of the house where the smugglers kept closed a large group of frozen and hungry refugees and forced migrants. After that, he wandered between the south and the north of Serbia, from the refugee camp to camp, until he was recognized as child in health risk and accommodated in the Integration House “Pedro Arrupe” in Belgrade. When he arrived, he was visibly malnourished, but also very scared and shy. Later on, he told us that in that time he thought: “What is this place where I can sleep safely in a clean and warm bed? Who are these people who give me clothes and food? Will they heal my arm? Will they really enroll me in school to learn to write and read? Will I really be like all the other children?” Hundreds of questions raced through his mind, but like any other teenager, Reza needed the most the warmth and security of home that our Integration House was providing.
The first thing we did was to take care of his injuries, which were the consequences of a long and difficult journey. After that, in the hospital in Belgrade, the doctors finally removed the metal rail from his arm, and the process of recovery and learning began. The professional team of the Integration House “Pedro Arrupe” started working on improving his social skills and mental health. He soon took the first steps in creating new connections both with the people and with the world around him. He developed into a strong and capable person, ready to talk about his past, but also about the future. He went to school, started learning Serbian and English. In Afghanistan and Iran, he never had the opportunity to go to school and he could not write. With the help of a translator, but also other children in the Integration House, he also learned to write in his mother language.
Throughout the process of progress, this boy discovered one great love – a love for art and painting. In the beginning, he drew himself and people dear to him. The experienced team of the Integration House “Pedro Arrupe” noticed his talent, which with a lot of support and motivation began to develop, and from that moment it seemed as if that child had completely transformed without hope. He began to believe that life could be beautiful, and he celebrated it through his art. With the selfless love of great people who recognized his talent, we managed to finance additional classes in the painting studio. He learned quickly and progressed rapidly.
In just four years of his stay in Integration Hose, a child who did not know to read and write has developed into a person who speaks and writes three languages, and who successfully completes all school obligations. With all this, he was also attending extra painting classes and never missed a single creative or educational workshop at the Integration House. He was regularly visiting a psychologist and working on his mental empowerment, and spends free time with friends from school and home.
The high school he attended organized a traditional exhibition where our boy exhibited his works for the first time. The artistic maturity that emerged from the works attracted the attention of adults and peers, both artists and the audience.
Reza is now studying Artistic Painting of the Belgrade University.
It is possible to make dreams come true, and our boy is well on his way to achieve that!
Four years ago, two of our beneficiaries had started and now accomplished secondary education in Serbia. This year they became the first two youth refugees from children shelter who started faculty studies on the University of Belgrade.
In the end, we must point out that boys and our team are grateful to all of you who helped that children refugees regain their childhood and to start to build their future life.
We believe that faith and commitment are catalysts that enable miracles to happen.