He grabbed the only opportunity he had – education - Refugee Council
August 31, 2017

He grabbed the only opportunity he had – education

Maliha Khan works as an EAL (English as an additional language) teacher and mentor for secondary school students who need support with their English. Many of her students are refugees and people seeking asylum from Iraq and Afghanistan including Yousef*.

Here below Maliha tells a story of a young boy who had to leave his homeland to stay alive.

Eight-year-old Yousef lived with his mother, father and a younger brother in a province of Afghanistan that was badly affected by war. He witnessed chaos, massacre and violence on daily basis, making him completely oblivious to childhood joys and fun.

Yousef worked in a small garage to help support his family. In spite of having an enormous desire to go to school, he worked hard at the garage so that family could survive. The only school he went to was under a tree. He would go twice a week for evening classes and it became his joy, his fulfilment, he found it an absolute delight to be part of the class. Though temperatures would soar to 48 degrees Celsius, he would still run to school as not to miss a single day. The only subjects he studied were Pashto language and literature and Religious Education. Yousef would be utterly miserable if, due to violence, his school and the only place he loved would have to close for a few days.

Yousef was happy with his life but it didn’t last long. One ill-fated day, cruelty struck their small family and his father was killed in cold blood right in front of his eyes. His mother took her two sons and ran for their lives. She took refuge with one of the neighbours and made a promise to herself to keep her two sons alive.

It was the beginning of `a journey of thousands miles’ for Yousef. He left his mother, friends, culture and homeland for ever. The only thing he held was his baby brother’s hand as they both ran to escape the brutality of evil killers. The perilous journey wasn’t easy… they had to cross rivers and rocky- mountains which battered their fragile bodies. They fled with others as desperate as them  and witness some of their unfortunate companions lose their lives by drowning or falling off cliffs -very  traumatic indeed for a young boy to behold. Yousef still moved on holding on to his younger brother. Was that the end of his wretched fate? No, it wasn’t. The last blow took all his senses away – he lost his brother while running away from people shooting at them. He went frantic, running around in a frenzy, but the only thing that returned was the agony of losing his baby brother.

Yousef arrived in U.K. and joined our school. He was a boy with no knowledge of English language, unaware of the school system, completely alien to the culture and with no friends, no family. He was also and scared to the core and had burning a desire of making his life successful.

Yousef took on board the only opportunity offered him. Education. He promised to work hard, succeed and prove to all of us that, if we are ready to help him, he can make happen even those things that feel unachievable.  

And Yousef did. He learnt English language, passing his GCSEs with merits and distinctions. He would not let himself off working in break time and lunch time or after school, always asking for help in various subjects.

Today, Yousef is heading towards a promising future. He has secured places in two universities and plans to work to help him pay his tuition fees. He dreams of becoming a pharmacist.

*Yousef is not the boy’s real name