Stories of Change

Bahar hands supplies to refugees and asylum seekers at refugee camp in Serbia

Bahar’s Determination for Change

Ever since she was a young girl, Bahar was aware of the inequalities that existed in her life in Iran. The older she got, the more prevalent the discrepancies became between her and her male peers. Bahar, however, came from an open-minded family and was constantly encouraged by her mother to fight for her rights and never settle. She went to university, traveled to different cities, met different people, and got a master’s degree in architecture. By most standards, Bahar was as ready and qualified as any to become a successful young professional.

Nonetheless, Bahar began to notice conversations circulating among her friends and extended family who asked why she was leaving their town, why she needed an education, or why she wasn’t married. Unfortunately, the reality facing Bahar was inevitable: no matter how capable and qualified she became, Bahar would not be given the same freedom or rights as her male counterparts. With her parents’ support, she decided that it was best for her to leave and find a place where she could live a full and safe life.

At age 30, Bahar decided to travel to Europe and eventually ended up in Serbia. The asylum application process was trying for Bahar. She experienced medical difficulties, and some of the shelters she stayed in were dirty or felt unsafe for her as a woman. She remembered one occasion after returning from the hospital in which all of her belongings had been stolen. She told us, “I put all my life into 50 pounds and when I came back to the camp, I had lost all of it.”

While she still was coping with her sickness, Bahar decided to go into town to receive medical support from local non-profits. This is when she first discovered CWS’ local partner InfoPark. Located at the heart of Belgrade, InfoPark is an information hub where refugees and asylum seekers can be connected to resources and receive consultation from legal experts. While at the center, Bahar was impacted by the number of people seeking help. She learned that a lot of the children visiting the center spoke Persian and Dari, like her, and were struggling with school. Without hesitation, Bahar decided she would become a volunteer at the center.

Bahar recalls that after letting the children know she would help them with their homework, 10 of them showed up on the first day. The children were eager to learn, and Bahar was eager to help. She told us, “when I was helping the children with their homework, I never felt tired.” Thanks to Bahar and InfoPark, the children not only got support in school but were given a sense of community and something to look forward to every week. Bahar shared, “every Saturday I met them here. We would have breakfast, listen to music and then I would help them with their homework. They would always ask me, ‘why can’t you come every day?’ I’m still in touch with all of them”.

The director of InfoPark, Gordon, noticed the impact Bahar was making and invited her to join their team full-time. Bahar shared that from the first time she came to InfoPark, Gordon has always looked after her. She told us, “sometimes I think, he’s not just my director, he is part of my family now.”

As a staff member at InfoPark, Bahar especially loves that she is able to support young girls and women. Her eyes filled with tears when she told us about a women’s day they hosted for refugee mothers at the center. She shared, “we invited 25 women to bring their children here to be taken care of by volunteers. We then took these women to various museums and to a restaurant. It may have been the first time they ever got to do something like this.”

In Iran, Bahar’s mom constantly encouraged her to never give up and to follow her dreams. Since arriving in Europe, she has remained determined to achieve the life she knows she deserves. Through her work with InfoPark, not only is she pursuing a life that gives her joy, but she is encouraging other refugee women and children to do the same.