Stories of Change

Elham repairing a phone.

Building technical skills for a young refugee in Jakarta

Growing up in Ghazni, Afghanistan, life was good for Elham* and his family. His mother was a dressmaker, and his father worked for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The family was living a comfortable, middle-class life. Then everything changed when Elham’s father died suddenly. Without her husband and his protection, Elham’s mother decided that Afghanistan was not a safe place for her family to live and work. They moved to Iran, where they thought they would be safe. Once they got to Iran they realized that while they were safe, they couldn’t work, study or receive any sort of identification cards.

Elham was determined to help his family, so he found a job as a cleaner in a company – even though he was just a little boy. The family got by, but after six years they were deported back to Afghanistan. Elham’s mom knew that her family still wasn’t safe, so she made the heart-wrenching decision that too many parents in our world have had to make. She sent him away to try to find a better life somewhere else.

And so Elham began the long and dangerous journey to Indonesia. He arrived in September of 2016. He registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and after two hard months of living on the streets, he was able to move into a CWS-hosted group home in Jakarta. Now, he says, he feels safe – for the first time in a very long time.

Despite his simple life, Elham says, “I’m happy. Every day I try to learn something new, and I have made so many friends. The social workers always encourage and help me so that I can be a successful person in the future.” In addition to the motivation from the CWS staff and the supportive home atmosphere, Elham also appreciates the chance to join vocational training sessions. Recently, he went through a 15-day course organized by the UNHCR and a local partner called Dompet Dhuafa to become a mobile phone technician.

Elham and his classmates started off by repairing older mobile phones and worked their way up to repairing more modern phones. Elham says, “step by step we learned about all the [parts and functions] of each phone, and eventually we started to repair smartphones!” He was a top performer in his class and received his certificate of completion – and a four-month internship! Now, he is refining his knowledge and continuing to improve his repair skills. He hopes that more practical programs like this one will be offered in the future. “I am hopeful that UNHCR and CWS will create similar programs, which help refugees like myself have a more optimistic outlook for our future.”

As a refugee, Elham is legally prohibited from working for money in the Indonesian economy. He’s excited to share his new phone repair skills with other refugees, though, especially to help those who do not know how to repair their broken phones but can’t afford new ones. For refugees, these phones are a critical lifeline to their families back in their home countries, so having working phones is important.

As for the CWS team members who work with Elham, they are proud of his accomplishments and are grateful for his spirit of optimism.

*Name changed to protect identity.