Welcome to our next ‘campfire’ story.
The Campfire for the Heart project is a collection of true, international stories of human resilience.
Although every story is unique, they all highlight our ability to adapt positively to bad experiences and showcase our indomitable human spirit.
If you have a resilience story to share, or know someone who does,
please contact Natalie Stockdale through www.stockdalewellbeing.com.
"My dream was to become a lawyer and help women’s rights in Afghanistan.”
Being born in 1989, my childhood in Afghanistan was tough. Hiding from bombs and bullets was the norm. When the Taliban arrived, life became tougher. Women were forced to stay home unless accompanied by a man. Beating people, shooting women and cutting off hands on the street was common under the lawless, terror-driven, Taliban regime.
The Taliban hosted a football game one day to entice a big crowd. In the middle of the game, they dragged a woman onto the oval and shot her in front of the crowd. Her crime- being in a relationship with a man without a marriage certificate.
My dream was to become a lawyer and help women’s rights in Afghanistan. To that end, I studied law at university in Kabul each day and worked as a bar tender for international patrons in the British Embassy each night, supporting my mother and sister. Deprived of all their freedoms, women in Afghanistan need a man to support them.
The selling and consuming of alcohol was outlawed by the Taliban and they kill people for non-compliance. My job at the embassy was therefore covert. Somehow, however, the Taliban discovered my job and entered our house while I was at work. Mercilessly, they beat my mother, telling her they’d be back to kill me. They left her with lifelong injuries and disabled her from walking again.
I never returned to my home after that night. I reluctantly fled to Pakistan to replan my life. As much as I wanted to return home and help my mother and sister, it wasn’t an option. My mother pleaded with me to stay away. Shocked, confused and depressed, my only way to survive was to escape Pakistan by illegal means.
I was smuggled by plane to Indonesia. In the middle of Jakarta, I was dumped by the smugglers on a busy highway with no phone, no contacts, no plan and only $200 in my pocket. Eventually I found someone who could speak a little English and found my way to the United Nations Office for Refugees. Once approved as a refugee, I had to wait in Indonesian Detention Centres until a country would accept me.
Those four years were the toughest of my life. For the first two months, I was locked in a hot, putrid cell of two square metres. It had no mattress, no fan or bedding- only a toilet, a bucket and ladle. I shared that cell with nine other men. We slept upon each other in piles. Deprived of fresh air, sunshine and often fresh water, we became sick, especially with skin diseases. Every day, we would ask ourselves, what did we do wrong? What did we do to deserve this? The worst criminals are treated better than this.
After two months, the cell door opened and we were allowed to walk around a yard. I later moved to a slightly better detention centre and started to help a few people speak English. My small, casual group transformed to classes of up to 70 people. The hour- long classes in an airconditioned room gave people a welcome break from the relentless heat.
I tried my best to improve conditions for my fellow refugees. I wrote more than sixty letters to government and non-government organisations, but without any success. Watching the women and children suffer was particularly hard. I always felt helpless.
One day, following an argument with a detention officer who refused to give us water, I became overwhelmed. I wanted to close my eyes and shut down. I went to the bathroom and filled myself with sleeping pills, shampoo and dishwashing liquid. Hours later, I woke up in hospital, my whole body racked with pain. Psychologists and counsellors asked me why I poisoned myself.
“Nobody is taking action to help these people,” I explained.
Lots of children and families visited me in hospital and asked me why I did it.
They said, “We want you to be with us, not here in hospital.”
I’ll never forget one little eight- year old girl. She never played with the other kids and was always alone and exposed to things that no child should ever see. She sat on my lap crying and said, “When do we get out of this place?”
“God is kind,” I told her. “We’ll get out one day.”
That was a turning point. My view of the world expanded. I decided to live, not for myself, but for other people. The nurses asked why so many visitors came to see me and loved me. I told them it was because I love them. I apologised to everyone, returned to detention and everything changed.
The English classes became very popular. I found other people who knew English to teach more classes. There must be other skills among the refugees, I thought. Shortly afterwards, painting and craft classes emerged. Volleyball and football games were also played. One of the immigration officers began calling me “father of the camp”. The Chief of Immigration later thanked me for coming to the detention centre. I thanked him for not stopping the classes or games. They were important for our wellbeing.
At this point, I’d like to acknowledge the International Organization for Migration who supported me through counsellors and doctors and enabled me to start my English classes. Regardless of your circumstances, there’s always something to be grateful for.
After waiting in Indonesia for four years, Australia thankfully opened its gate to me. I’m now a permanent resident and live in a safe and welcoming community in the Blue Mountains, NSW. I work six days a week in Sydney doing manual work while I figure out what to do next.
My dream is to help women and children in some way and bring my mother over here so I can take care of her. I want a simple, but meaningful life away from big cities.
When I feel sad sometimes, I remember what the children said about loving me, which gives me comfort, for we are nothing without each other. On my day off work, I like to help my landlord in the garden. The fresh air and nature are healing and give me energy.
A lot of people are worried about COVID. While it’s a legitimate concern, it’s nothing compared to living without any rights under a terror-led regime, or in a heinous detention centre when your only ‘crime’ is escaping from murder. Putting hardships into perspective can be helpful.
In Australia, we have so much to be thankful for. We have thousands of options of how to live. We have freedom of speech, freedom to work and freedom to be educated. We have legal rights to protect us.
A lot of people constantly want more things, more money, better cars etc. Instead of constantly looking up to get more, we need to look down to give more, down to where people need help. Through helping others, we connect and nourish our soul. Through helping others, we find love, purpose and happiness.
New South Wales, Australia