“A journey of hope but full of challenges… My name is Faiz Hamdam and I’m 18 years old. I am from Maidan Wardak, one of the 34 provinces within the central region of Afghanistan. Everything was perfect. I really enjoyed spending time with my parents, playing with my brothers, and helping my sisters with chores at home.
There was no political stability, but everyone was free to do their business and nobody made problems for others. I used to go to school and I attended short courses in English and in computer programs. I was really interested in studying, and I was trying hard to become a well-known and respected member of society. I traveled to school by foot, which made me very tired, but returning home to the smile of my mother and the encouragement of my father help me to forget my exhaustion. Those are the most intricate parts of my life which I really miss.
Everything changed when ISIS (Daeesh) appeared in my province. There was no more stability as ISIS wanted to expand its army. They informed families to send their teenagers to fight with them against the government and against American troops. ISIS promised monthly payments to those who would send their sons by their own wishes. For those who were not willing to send their youngsters, ISIS warned them to leave or else they would come and take their sons by force.
We were not able to move and rent a house in another province of Afghanistan and so my parents were left with only one option- to send me abroad. Being the youngest and the last of the children in my family, it was very difficult for me to leave my sweet mother and father. My parents convinced me, however, to start the journey towards Europe and I had no other option. My parents could not afford to pay for the journey, and they had to borrow money to pay the smuggler.
On 20th of Feb, 2016, my journey began. It took 15 days to get to Iran. In those 15 days, the smugglers didn’t provide us with much food and water. They just gave us a piece of bread with a glass of water. Nothing else. At night it was too cold to sleep so we made fires to keep warm. 15 days later, I crossed the border into Iran and spent two days at the smuggler’s house to rest.
The next trip, crossing Iran to the Turkish border, I walked 17 hours through mountains. When I arrived in Turkey, an agent of the smuggler came and he took me to his home. Turkey was a beautiful country and I walked around to visit each city of it. I really enjoyed the time I spent in Turkey, I even decided to stay there but there were not much facilities for emigrants. Thus I decided to continue my journey and that was the most difficult and dangerous part of my journey — crossing the sea.
It was 11 o’clock in the morning when a car came and carried us to Izmir. From there we got on a boat. The smuggler told us that he bought a big boat to carry us, and said that there would only be 15 to 20 people in the boat. That was a lie. When we arrived, we realized it was a very small boat and that about 50 people were waiting to ride with us. I had no other options; The smugglers would get me on the boat whether I wanted to or not. It took one hour and forty minutes to cross the sea and enter Greece, the entry point ofEurope.
When we arrived on Lesvos, an island in Greece, the UNHCR members helped us and transferred us to Moria Camp. There we were informed that borders to Europe were closed and we would have to stay in Greece or go back to Afghanistan. One month passed in Moria Camp without having any information about our asylum application procedure. On the 27th of April a big fight took place between Pakistanis, Syrians, and Afghans, but luckily we were safe because minors in the camps were separate from the others. During the fight, they burned our documents and destroyed computers with our information on them. That night, three friends and I were transferred to the island of Leros.
In Leros, we were registered again (because our papers were burned) in Lesvos. Here I also applied for family reunification. My brother is in Belgium and I want to get there to pursue my education. I hope one day I will reach my goals.
I stayed on Leros Island for eight months until I moved to Athens. After a few months, I found out about The Unmentionables organization that needed someone to help them with English to Dari translations. I found out they were also starting a photography class. I didn’t know anything about photography before but since starting classes with the three volunteer professional photographers, I learned a lot of things. The teachers are really amazing and they always encourage me. It really changed my way of seeing the world and the credit goes to my great teachers, I will always appreciate them.
To sum up, in that time I have learned many things. Though it was very difficult, I learned how to face challenges, how to deal with different people from different regions, and I learned new skills. I also made new friends and we are luckily in one room.
l really miss my family and especially my sweet mother. When I talk to her, tears come out of my eyes. Instead my mother encourages me to be strong and hopeful and she says she always prays for me to achieve my goals. And I wish that one day my dreams will come true."
August - October 2017
Prints of the students' work are available for purchase here. 100% of the proceeds go directly back to the students, giving them a sense of financial freedom to help them in their journey to a better, safer, and happier life.