By Georgia Trismpioti, IFRC
As a child, Rahim dreamed of being a martial arts fighter like his idol Chuck Norris. Although he never got to practice martial arts, Rahim did grow up to be a fighter, who inspires those around him every day.
Rahim was born in Pakistan but his family moved to Afghanistan when he was young. He managed to learn the new language easily and eventually graduated from high school. He was passionate about languages so after completing his secondary education he started working as an English teacher.
But he had to flee Afghanistan and his family literally overnight after being forced to join a group of armed fighters against his will.
He paid a smuggler 2,000 dollars to get him to Turkey. “The trip was difficult and risky but life in Afghanistan was risky as well. Things were already scary,” he explains. “If you stayed your life was in danger; if you left your life was in danger. Nothing is easy. It is painful to have to leave your country and more painful to leave your family,” he adds.
The perilous journey through Iran, and from there to Turkey on foot through the mountains, took one month. Finding himself in Ankara with little money and no place to stay he managed to find a job in a napkin factory. For almost one year he worked from 8 am until midnight in the factory and slept in the same place in horrible conditions.
“I was dying there. Because of the desperate and terrible conditions, I started feeling mentally sick. The sound of the machine was driving me crazy,” says Rahim.
He changed jobs several times, afraid the Turkish authorities would deport him back to Afghanistan. Then Rahim became seriously ill, unable to buy medicine without legal documents. He was saved by a friend who arranged for him to be treated at a private clinic.
Rahim overcame his health problems and became more determined than ever to create a better future for himself. In 2015 he crossed to Greece by boat and was rescued by the Greek coastguard after the boat’s motor broke down. A miserable year in Moria camp on the island of Lesbos followed.
“I was living under the most appalling conditions for more than a year. I was spending all day queueing for food, doing nothing else. I was struggling to survive and keep my mental health. But I had to fight another battle, the battle of staying active,” says Rahim.
He started working as a volunteer and teaching English to the residents in the camp. He volunteered with various NGOs and managed to regain his confidence and his spirit.
Rahim’s life changed unexpectedly when he was transferred to Diavata Camp, 10km from Thessaloniki. While looking for a job, he found out the Red Cross in Thessaloniki was looking for a Farsi and English speaker to work in its cash assistance programme. He applied and in December 2017 started working for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) as a cash officer.
“Our kind-hearted, brave and loving Rahim fills the Red Cross Multifunctional Centre with goodness, optimism and hope. He is our hero, our real life Chuck Norris, who inspires us and gives us the strength to face dire situations in our lives,” says Sherien Kharouba, project manager in the centre.
Rahim’s more experienced colleagues have taken him under their wing and admire his eagerness to learn and excel. He says he has had no difficulty acclimatising to the new working environment and culture which differs vastly from the one he fled.
“I am fortunate to have found a new life in Greece and have been given the opportunity to work within the Red Cross Movement and assist vulnerable people in need. My next goal is to continue my education in Greece. I regret that I have no documents attesting the completion of my high school studies, but I will try to find a way to resolve this,” says Rahim, his eyes shining with excitement.
He now has his own apartment which he shares with a friend and has been granted asylum in Greece.
The IFRC Multifunctional Centre enhances the integration of migrants and refugees in the local community through para-legal support, language and computer courses, and case management. Since it opened its doors in December 2017 it has helped more than 25,000 people.