What most people don’t realize is that art doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be honest.
I draw a lot in my free time and my two favorite artists are Pablo Picasso and Charlie Chaplin. If you look at the lives of every successful artist who’s ever lived, it's usually quite tragic and filled with sadness. Yet, despite their challenges, the way they express themselves is nothing short of beautiful. They’re able to show the world what they’re truly like inside. It sounds so simple right? But it's also the most difficult thing in the world—to show the world what you’re really like inside.
People make fun of Picasso’s works all the time. His drawings might seem out of this world but that’s just the way he sees reality, so there’s indescribable honesty to it. As for Charlie Chaplin, it's beautiful the way he tries to make others happy despite having so much sadness inside of him. I really like him. Being sad inside while trying to look happy for others, it’s the hardest thing to do in the world.
It was December 2013 when I arrived in Indonesia with my family.
I still remember the journey by boat and plane. We had to stop off for a few hours in Malaysia before coming to Indonesia. Both countries are very new to me, very different from Afghanistan. I was a student in grade 10 when the conflicts got worse. I was studying in language centres and computer classes but I had to leave everything behind and come here because it just wasn’t safe back home. The situation grew out of hand in 2013 and this was a time where stepping outside your house could mean instant death.
We couldn’t even go to the study centres nearby which were less than five minutes away from our homes because it was that bad. We couldn’t even trust our neighbours.
Let me tell you this—life becomes a living hell when you can’t even trust your neighbours.
How do you even sleep at night? You can’t.
I live with my 4 sisters, 3 brothers and parents in Indonesia. Having a big family in a foreign land helps to keep the homesickness away. But I still think about the friends I’ve left behind, the friends I’ve lost. Growing up in Afghanistan, I never really knew the true meaning of what it meant to be a refugee. The media has always had a way of portraying refugees so I grew up thinking that refugees might not be the most pleasant of people. But fate has changed and now that I have become a refugee, I know the pain and discrimination that is felt by refugees around the world.
We are all human beings, we are the same. We should respect each other.
There wasn’t any humanity in Afghanistan so I turned to books and art.
Art and books were an escape from reality. I trusted art and books more than people because people never showed me what humanity was like back in my country. Living as a refugee in Indonesia is tough but at least the people here have humanity.
My favourite poet is Rumi.
My favorite line from one of his poems is the one that reads “It is your road and yours alone. People might walk it with you but nobody can walk it for you.” How true. I’ve lost friends and family because of wars and conflicts back home and I’ve realized that your life is yours alone. People will come and go. Some will leave forever so you need to keep focus no matter what and work towards your goals regardless.
I was studying in Grade 12 in a private school in Afghanistan and preparing for my final examinations when I had to leave the country.
Unfortunately, I had to leave everything back—my wishes, my hopes and my reality.
We were forced to leave because of the recurring blasts and explosions that were slowly approaching us as the days passed. I belong to the Hazara community. In Afghanistan, the government has never taken us seriously. They’ve never even considered us as part of the country to begin with. We’ve always been treated as the “others” or “outsiders” even.
I came to Indonesia with my family in November 2013. I am staying here with my mother, my four brothers, two sisters, two uncles and my grandmother. That’s 10 of us in total. We are all living together in the same house.
My greatest wish is that everyone in the world should treat refugees and asylum seekers as humans. Not as terrorists or as problem-makers.
Islam is not like that. It is not about violence and killing.
It is a religion filled with so many beautiful messages but people are misreading the messages.
I have this wish that one day everyone will accept refugees as humans. Not by their colour, creed or their religion. But by the fact that they are humans who are just trying to save their families, their kids and their spouses.
I love reading books. When we left Afghanistan, I brought many books along with me. I miss going to school. These days I've started reading long-form English novels, which I simply adore.
The thing about knowledge is that, the more we study, the more we become complete.
No matter where we go, we have wisdom by our side. As refugees, we might have lost our homes, our family and our way of life. But there’s one thing that no one can ever take away from us, and that is knowledge. Not the government, not society, not the extremists and certainly not the Taliban. No one will ever be able to take that away from us.
That is the beauty of wisdom.
In that aspect, I am very thankful to my parents because all their lives, they’ve worked hard so that I could study. But the saddest part of it all is that I will never be able to work and live alongside my parents in Afghanistan because the situation there has become extremely volatile. It is every child’s wish to work hard and take care of their parents especially as they get older and they reach their twilight years. But I will never be able to do that and that is something that is always at the back of my mind.
In Afghanistan, people who are well educated, well-informed and capable are either dead or they have left the country to seek asylum elsewhere.
In my country, even government officials aren’t safe from persecution. Educators like myself are constantly targeted, which is why I had to leave everything back home and come over to Indonesia.
Recently, I received my bachelor’s degree from the University of Pune. The school had sent the certificate to my home address in Afghanistan. But there is no way for me to return back home so I called a dear friend of mine to see if she could help to mail the document over. By God’s grace, I received it a couple of week’s back. It might just be a piece of paper to some people but to me—my past, present and future lies in that degree.
When I was studying for my bachelor’s degree back home, I was also teaching English in my free time. I used to teach English for both adults and children in language centres all around Kabul.
Contrary to popular belief, there is actually an influx of foreigners and tourists who visit certain parts of Afghanistan.
These are usually the cities that are much safer and conducive for travelling, ofcourse.
The influx of these foreigners is a huge benefit for the country because it helps to create jobs for the locals. Hence, learning the English language is extremely important for anyone who wishes to create a better future for themselves.
At the rate things are going, it will take my country a few decades before things get back to normal. It is both physically and emotionally draining to see and hear your country going through so much of chaos especially when you are far away and unable to help in any way.
I can only hope things get better soon. That is the only thing I can do for now.
I’d like to be a fashion designer in the future.
That has always been my dream since I was very little. I don’t have the means to attend design school or afford private classes on my own so I’ve always learnt about design through magazines, books and the internet. I’ve also made it a habit to draw for an hour each day in order to hone my craft and improve myself. I might be stuck in limbo in Indonesia but my imagination takes me all around the world. There’s no such thing as natural born talent—as long as you put in the hours and focus on your dreams, you’ll be the best there ever was.
First, you need to love what you do. Everything else will fall into place after that. It sounds easy but it’s also the hardest thing to do.
There’s a certain kind of adrenaline that runs through your body when you are fighting to stay alive.
My journey to Indonesia is probably one of the most tiring journeys I’ve ever experienced. My family and myself travelled by boat, plane and car to get here. From Karachi, we took an eight hour flight to Thailand. Here, we took another flight to Malaysia with a short stopover in between before embarking on a final plane ride to Indonesia. Throughout the entire journey, we slept anywhere that was comfortable because we were both physically and emotionally drained.
When the time came to flee from danger, we had absolutely no time to react.
We needed to pack up and leave in a matter of hours as the conflict was fast approaching. We couldn’t trust our neighbours or friends anymore. There are five of us here in Indonesia—there’s my brother, sister, my parents and myself. We are tired of being misrepresented by the media. I admit, there are a few bad apples who make refugees worldwide look bad but stereotyping people has never brought us anywhere. Reading and listening to the way the media portrays us can be very saddening sometimes.
I think education is not something that is just taught in schools.
You can be the most educated person on earth but if you have no manners then it would be meaningless.
When I teach in class, it’s not just about subjects and marks. I make it a point to teach them basic manners and traits so that they not only be smart but also become good human beings. Education is not just about getting good grades or topping your class. It’s about knowing how to treat each other well, about having respect for one another. I think Aristotle said it best when he said “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
I was a university professor in Kabul back in Afghanistan when I had to flee.
I’ve always been fascinated with world history so it was truly a dream come true for me to be able to teach international relations and public policy at several universities in Kabul.
In fact, I published a book entitled “Introduction to Public Policy”. It was later used as a textbook in universities across the entire country. Ask any author and he’ll tell you that publishing is an addictive habit. So I started my research again and I published a second book entitled “Language & Political Science” which was meant to be published as a two part edition. The first one was successfully published. The second one was on the verge of being published and then I had to leave Afghanistan. There was no time to pack anything else other than my passport and some cash so I left both my books behind. I don’t think I’ll ever get to see them again.
My wife and myself came to Indonesia in January 2016. Actually when we left Afghanistan, we came to India first. And from India we came to Malaysia by plane followed by a harrowing boat journey to Indonesia.
All we had was a loaf of white bread and a two 500ml bottles of mineral water between my wife and myself to last us for the three day boat journey.
I just want to say that asylum seekers and refugees are as human as you and I. They are desperately seeking for better lives elsewhere because home has become hell for them. They’ve abandoned their homes, families, relatives and every memory they’ve ever had to survive elsewhere in a country that they’ve probably never even heard of. Asylum seekers and refugees aren’t bad people. Do not think of them as terrorists or vagabonds. They are just like you and I. They can contribute and they can function as productive human being in society.
I made my mind up a long time back. I just want to be a human being. Not an Afghan, a muslim or a professor. I just want to be a human being. My father taught me this when I was really young and it has always stuck with me. All human beings are equal to me, there’s no such thing as a superior race or belief.
My greatest wish is to rebuild an identity for myself.
I would like to be resettled in a country that will welcome my wife and I. Then, I would like to work in any capacity or role that allows me to serve the people who are escaping from terrorists, extremists and radicalism just like myself. I have to help them because they are humans searching for a better life just like I am doing now.
If these refugee children aren’t educated then what will they do in the future? Without proper education, they will go anywhere they please and do anything as they wish without fear of repercussion. We have already suffered the wrath of leaders who aren’t educated and those who have no concern or thought for anyone else rather than themselves—the clergies and religious fanatics who claim that education is bad.
This is an unholy cycle that is bound to repeat itself because without education, these kids have a chance of ending up like the persecutors that they are so desperately trying to get away from.
Education is the key to changing the minds of people. When the minds of people are changed, the world will be a different place.
The first time I left home was also the first time I became a refugee.
I had never left my country before that. There was never a need to. I was 14-years old in 2013 when we had to flee Afghanistan because of the Taliban. The plane journey from Afghanistan to Malaysia was my first time on a flight. I was both excited and sad at the same time. I remember not knowing what to feel.
The boat ride from Malaysia to Indonesia was scary because the sea was choppy and the vessel was overcrowded. I remember missing the feel of land under my feet. That’s a very scary feeling. My family mean the world to me. In Indonesia, there’s 10 of us—eight children and both my parents.
My country Afghanistan and Japan attained independence in the same year—in 1947.
But if you looked at Japan now and if you were to compare it back to Afghanistan, there is a huge difference because my country hasn’t really progressed. We are still stuck with our old ways, holding onto practices and beliefs that are no longer relevant in this day and age.
But Japan has survived two atomic bombs and now they are now a force to be reckoned with. It makes me sad that even as an Afghan citizen, I’m not able to help my country even if I wanted to. I’m so far away and my country is still the same as it was 20-30 years ago.
The problem with the world today is that we are so segregated by religion, class and the colour of our skin.
When you are together as a unit, as a united people no one can break you. Not terrorists, not politicians not anyone.
But when you’re divided, it is easier for evil to manipulate and segregate you even more. That’s the first thing that we all have to do—come together.
I wish to be a leader in the future. A strong leader who is able to lead the community with strong thoughts. We should understand ourselves first before we attempt to understand each other. We need to understand who we are, where we come from and where we should be going from here.
Education is the most important thing in the world.
I think that’s how we can change the world. Education teaches us things in a way that nothing else can. Education makes everything beautiful. It makes the heart a beautiful place, and it can make you a beautiful person. We can change the world through education. With education, you can empathise with those who might be experiencing pain, sorrow or difficulties in their life.
I was alone when I came to Indonesia in June 2013.
The boat journey from Malaysia to Indonesia was the most harrowing part of the trip. We were stuck at sea in the dead of the night for more than four hours because the captain of our boat forgot the route. We were drifting aimlessly and the sea breeze at night was relentless. I remember how frightening it felt to be cold, hungry and lost. Eventually, the captain found his bearings and we made our way towards land.
I was studying English and taking up extra courses in my free time back in Pakistan. Refugees in Pakistan aren’t allowed to go to universities because they don’t have the required paperwork. So I had to rely on private institutions to pursue my education. I believe that all humans are born with a certain sense of humanity within themselves. Somewhere along the way, we lost ourselves. We forgot what it was like to love and be loved.
We have lost mutual respect and trust for each other.
This is what is keeping us apart. When people think of Afghanistan, they think of suicide bombers and terrorists. What most people don’t realize is that there are many innocent Afghans who get caught in the crossfire because of the extremists and radicals.
We shouldn’t judge someone based on their appearance. Simply put, we can’t judge a book by its cover. I believe in humanity. I really do. We should spread love. We should spread respect. We should have tolerance and mutual respect. That is something that will make the world a better place to live in. There should be no discrimination, none at all.
This is my personal ideology. I don’t care who someone is or where he or she might come from. Is he Jew? Is he Christian? Is he Muslim? To me, the most important aspect is that he is human. To me, he belongs to this world and I respect him. We all bleed the same blood.
In Afghanistan, people at the top divide society in the name of sects, religious groups and the color of our skin. To me, none of these matter.
When I became a refugee, I learnt many things.
The most important thing I learnt was that we are all humans. So why are we making the world a tough place for us to live in? We have the power to make the world a paradise or living hell. It’s all in our hands.
Countries will spend billions of dollars on wars and terrorism but very little on solving water shortages, famine and poverty. Climate change is one of the biggest problems that is threatening our survival as a human race at the moment.
Instead of spending money on war and terrorism, more can be done to address real-world issues like climate change and the refugee crisis. But nobody seems to be bothered. We all really need to worry about the world more because mother nature has given us so much. And yet, we treat her without love or respect.
This life is beautiful but it is also precious. Everyday is a gift and I treat each new day as a new way for me to improve myself. Living life in limbo is difficult but nothing lasts forever. As long as I have love in my heart, nothing can stand in my way.
Ali Mahdi Payam
Not even in my wildest of dreams did I ever imagine that I would be a refugee one day.
Life was very different back then. As an economics graduate, I had the chance to work in several cities within Afghanistan like Kabul and Kandahar. I was working for a London-based NGO called, “Save The Children International” which allowed me access to lesser documented provinces like Ghazni and Bamiyan to provide aid for children in rural areas.
I came over to Indonesia in 2013. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to forget the journey. It was an extremely traumatic and tiring journey.
I had a billion thoughts running through my head at the time.
I took a flight from Kabul to India where I spent 15 days waiting for a connecting flight. From there, I boarded a flight to Indonesia which included an eight hour transit at Singapore’s Changi Airport. Because of the way we look and dress, refugees always get treated differently whenever we are travelling from one country to another.
But I will never forget the eight hours I spent in transit in Singapore.
Everybody, from the cleaners to the airport staff were extremely polite and respectful. It didn’t seem to matter that we were from Afghanistan or that we were on our way seeking asylum in Indonesia. We were treated just like everybody else and that is something I’ll always remember.
This was also the first time that I found out that many different races live together alongside each other in Singapore. How nice it is to be able to respect and love each other despite being from different faiths and walks of life? Looking back, I don’t know which was more draining—the journey itself or the anticipation of landing in Indonesia to start my life anew.
I am staying alone in Indonesia but my thoughts and memories are always about the people back home—the loved ones and friends that I have lost because of the war.
My greatest wish is to be resettled in a country and to help other refugees like myself.
I would like to ask the world to please give all refugees a chance. Please hear us out and allow us an opportunity to prove ourselves because we have lost many things to get to where we are today. We’ve lost friends, family, our jobs and even our identities. The only thing we haven’t lost is hope.
I came to Indonesia in July 2013 and it’s been more than three years since I’ve been here.
I live here by myself. When the time came for me to flee my homeland, I took an internal flight within Pakistan from Quetta to Islamabad. This was followed by an overseas flight to Oman where I had to transit for a couple of hours before making my way down to Malaysia.
But the most dangerous aspect of my journey was definitely the boat ride from Malaysia to Indonesia. To begin with, the vessel I was travelling on wasn’t even a ship. It was a fishing boat meant for about 15 people at max but there were 21 of us onboard so the boat was really heavy. We travelled out to sea in the dead of the night so it was pitch black.
There were times when you didn’t know where the sky ended and where the sea began because it was just one entire curtain of black draped all around us. The only lights that we saw was that of the other ships that were crossing by us.
We had no life jackets on at all so everyone held onto the boat tightly because a large wave could throw you off and nobody would have noticed.
We weren’t able to take a lot of things along with us because it was adding onto the weight of the boat. I threw away a couple of pants and shirts to lessen my load. I remember seeing the clothes drifting away slowly like a lifeless body into the sea.
Things were going quite well for me when I was still a student till the year 2009. I did my pre-engineering degree in college from 2007-2009. After that, I improved myself with an added master’s degree in civil engineering. But because of the unstable situation back home, I could not continue my education because my university was being targeted as well.
The two main universities were at two different ends of Pakistan. By now, the situation was extremely volatile so I was not able to continue my education even if I wanted to. Regardless, I did a bachelor’s of science degree as a private student.
I wasn’t able to continue my studies in civil engineering but at the same time, I didn’t want to remain stagnant.
I was one of the top students in my degree program but I wasn’t able to go and collect my certificate because I couldn’t find a taxi or a car which was willing to bring me near the university. Because of the ongoing conflicts, only residents of that area were permitted inside. So I have never held my degree certificate in my life. I worked very hard for it and I put in a lot of effort but I don’t think I will ever see it.
Having been in limbo, it is my greatest wish that I will be able to go to a place without any limitations or restrictions. A place where I have my rights, where I am allowed to travel. A place where I can study and achieve my goals. Where men and women are equal, where we see each other as humans, not as statistics or numbers.
I completed my high school in Quetta, Pakistan.
While studying, I was also teaching English at language centres nearby to earn some extra income. On top of this, I was also working as an apprentice at a carpentry shop nearby in order to support my family. Working while studying is wasn’t easy but it taught me the importance of discipline and persistence.
I belong to the Hazara community and things got worse when there were genocides being carried out against the Hazara minorities in Pakistan. Almost every day, you’d hear of stories about a classmate or a relative who was taken away by the authorities. And you’d spend each day wondering if you would be next. Having to live in fear each day is a horrible way to live.
By God’s grace, we somehow managed to save our lives and flee the country.
To be honest, it the entire journey from Pakistan to Indonesia still remains a daze.
“Run for your life.” was the only thing going through my mind. The only thing that I wanted more than anything else was the safety of my family members and myself.
I am here in Indonesia with my entire family. There are seven members in my family—my parents, two brothers, one younger sister, one aunt and myself.
My message for the world is that we as refugees don’t mean any harm to anyone at all.
As with everyone, there are a few bad apples who give us all a bad name but please don’t think that we are all the same. We don’t mean to cause any inconvenience for countries and their citizens. But because of the conflicts and wars back home, we are forced to seek asylum in other countries.
We don’t have the intention of violating the laws and regulations of any country. If anything, we are respectful of the customs and traditions of any country that we are resettled in, temporarily or otherwise.
We just want to save our lives, the lives of our loved ones and resettle elsewhere where it is safe for us. We just want to live in peace and harmony with everyone around us. It doesn’t matter what race or religion you might be from.
My message for the world is that refugees aren’t terrorists or malicious people. I hope the world realizes the real reason behind the plight of refugees. Beneath this all, we are simply human just like anyone else.
I will never forget the day I arrived in Indonesia as a refugee because it was my birthday.
It was November 1st, 2013. Its been about 3 years since I arrived. I had 2 reasons to leave my country. The first reason is my husband. My husband has been missing since 2012. He arrived in Indonesia and he was on a boat which was travelling towards Christmas Island but I haven't heard from him since. I came in search of him. Secondly, I was not having a good life back in Pakistan. Being a single mum and a single woman.
Actually, being a woman itself, you are discriminated against in various ways.
Even working as a woman was frowned upon. Living life alone in a culture and community like that is much harder, much difficult. After a year, I told myself that no matter how hard it gets, I have to go and search for my husband.
I came here to Indonesia alone with my two young kids because it was very difficult to live in Pakistan. When I came here, life was much harder than it was back home. But as a woman, at least I’m not discriminated against here.
Being a single mum and a refugee is a very difficult.
There is no way of survival as you have no income and no way to get help from anywhere. Personally, on an emotional level you can get depressed day by day. Thinking and waiting for the resettlement process to go through because the entire procedure is so lengthy and takes so much of time. And you have to wait for a long time. Before coming here, I was told that it would only take 8-9 months to get resettled to another country but I was totally wrong.
When I came here, I received my refugee status within a year. I just got news that I have been resettled for Canada but I’m still waiting for a confirmation. I’ve got no news yet. The process of waiting for something is very difficult. In fact waiting for anything is very difficult. When I first came to Indonesia, I was living in Jakarta for 6 months.
Later on, I came to know from my friends that they were having meetings to open a school for refugee kids in Cisarua. After that, I decided that I had to come here so that my kids would have a proper education.
But I also felt like I needed to contribute to my own community of refugees and those who were living here.
I was teaching science, English and mathematics. I was teaching students age 10-16 years old. I am here with my son and daughter.
My kids are my priority. I wish that they always get whatever they set their hearts to.
So of course they are missing their father. They are feeling the gap of not having a father so I can feel that. Most of the time, I feel that.
As a mother, I will do everything I can for their education, for their livelihood and for their survival. Their lives and their happiness is more important than mine. But I cannot fulfil the role of a father, that I cannot give them.
That is my only wish—I wish that one day they should also be happy and they should reunite with their father.
I am taking care of them and I’m trying my best but somehow I am feel that they yearn for their father. I wish that I could fill that gap.
I want them to have a bright future and have a good personality. Whether they become successful or not, they should be good human beings. They should respect people and they should always care for the well-being of others and those who might not be as lucky as them.
Because being a good human is the most important thing in the world.