Stories of Change

Ghulam at work in the CWS container.

In the Midst of a Long Journey, a Moment for Inspiration

Note: This story was written in September 2020. On September 30, the Bosnian government closed the Bira reception center. CWS now works in Lipa, a new refugee and migrant center about 12 miles from Bihac. Ghulam left Bira days before the center closed.

Ghulam has been moving for as long as he can remember. He was born in Afghanistan. When he was 5 years old, his parents sent him to live with an uncle in Pakistan and start school. After a couple of years, his family joined him. Then his dad went to Saudi Arabia in search of work that would put food on his family’s table. Ghulam moved back to Afghanistan with his mom and nine siblings.

Ghulam has always loved both learning and art. He remembers racing home from school to finish his homework. Ironically, considering that he now dreams of being a professional athlete, he would paint while the other children played. When his family moved back to Afghanistan, he had to drop out of school and help earn money, but he still found a way to pursue a craft. He made wooden furniture with his older brother.

A year ago, everything changed. Ghulam’s father returned home with a medical condition that meant that he could no longer do hard, physical work. Ghulam made the tough decision that he felt was best for his family: he left to try to get to Europe and earn money that he could send back to his family. His journey has taken him through Iran, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and now Bosnia and Herzegovina. He desperately misses his siblings, especially his older sister. And for now, he got separated from his best friend and traveling companion, who is waiting for him in Belgium. They want to meet up and eventually go to the United Kingdom together.

For now, Ghulam is in the Bira reception center in Bihac, Bosnia. The center is full of shipping containers that are used as dormitories, classrooms and meeting spaces. CWS has a container where we offer classes for Bira’s residents. One day when Ghulam was passing the CWS container, our team invited him in for a German class. He says that he thought to himself, “I love languages. I already speak Pashto, Urdu, Farsi and English. Why shouldn’t I try to learn German as well?”

It turns out that the German class wasn’t the main takeaway that day, though. “I sat in the container, but the only thing I could focus on was the drawings that the CWS staff put on the walls,” he recalls. The next day he returned, and the CWS team was organizing a craft workshop to celebrate Valentine’s Day. For a while he just watched, but then he decided to join in. He drew for hours, and when he was finished, the CWS team complimented his work and hung it on the wall with the others.

“Every day you encouraged me to draw more and more and gave me crayons, paper and whatever I needed,” he says. Today, Ghulam is a regular at the CWS container. He loves to draw portraits and graphic drawings. He says he will continue to learn languages ​​and paint in the future, even though his dream is to become a professional athlete.

As a recent conversation shows, Ghulam has a big heart and big plans. “I am happy to see my drawings among others, it inspires me,” he says. “But you guys need more decorations, especially wooden ones. I’ll make them for you. Maybe I’ll even start writing poetry, we’ll see.”