The night was dark and scary, the waves of the Aegean Sea were gigantic and the engine of the broken boat was dead. The heart breaking screams of the women and children in the boat when the waves hit the boat was mixed with the terrifying sound of the lightning, sending shocking waves to my system. And there was me, in a corner of the inflatable boat holding my five terrified children together with my brave wife among 50 other refugees. The wind was disturbing and the boat hit the huge rocks by the island which caused more damage and the boat started sinking, but before it completely sank we succeeded to get out of the boat, and come ashore, in the northern part of the Lesbos island in Greece. My name is Zekria Farzad and I am the founder of Wave of hope for the future.
After almost dying in the Aegean sea that cold night, we continued our journey towards a safer destination, but when we could walk no more because the children got sick and everybody was tired, we had to register ourselves as refugees in Greece and they sent us to the biggest European camp, Moria, which is also known as “Refugees Hell”. Like any other refugee family we also got a tent to sleep under and some other necessities, but soon I realized that something truly important was missing. There were a lot of children in the camp, but no school for them. When I asked the authorities they said we must wait three to six months in order for our children to be enrolled in a school. It didn’t make any sense to me and I wanted to do something about it. The next day I went to the city, bought a whiteboard with several markers and the same day I started teaching the refugee children outside in the sun, under an olive tree.
Day by day the refugee families got more interested and started to bring their children to join my class. Many of them even volunteered to let me use their tents several hours a day so that I could give my classes in the tents to protect the children from the heat of the sun. Things went fast and after 20 days I had seven classes in and outside the camp. That was when I started working on establishing a school for the kids.
In the beginning of the next month, which was May 2019, I had gathered a team of refugee volunteers and the very first class of our school started their lessons. Using my own money we started Wave of hope for the future, which today is known as “An institution from the refugees to the refugees” around the globe.
The name of the school gets its origin from the deadly waves of the Aegean sea, which is kind of ironic, but relevant to the experiences of the refugees in the camp.
We have faced big challenges since the day we started the school, the first and biggest one came from the Greek police, saying that we were just “immigrants” and had no right to start a school in their country, they warned us, asking us to stop our work before they forcefully did it. They even tried to get inside some of the refugees’ head and used that technique to stop our work. But after months of trying to convince them and talking to the authorities of the camp about how our work and that it was only meant to provide education for our children, they finally accepted to let us continue. “By opening a school, a prison gets closed.” This is what I told them again and again, and so they got convinced.
There were many more Greek organisations who tried to stop us in the beginning, besides the police and migration board. But determined as we were, we never gave up, and even though some of us were really scared, especially when we got the warning from the police that if we didn’t stop they would burn our boards and tents, we succeeded, by encouraging and reminding one another that we were doing the right thing.
Now Wave of hope for the future has 3000 students in Moria and Ritsona camps. But to be honest, sometimes when I think about the two rejections that me and my family have got from the migration authorities, it feels like they are taking revenge for what I did – even if what I did was not illegal and did no harm to the system.
We have never asked any big organisation for help, all we have done so far has been made possible by decreasing our expenses and saving money – working together. Our biggest supporters have been the refugees themselves. By volunteering to help us with the daily work, donating money or just giving us their prayers and best wishes, they have helped us come this long during this short time. I am grateful for having the support of my colleagues both in Greece but also in other countries, especially people from my homeland Afghanistan. Because of their endless efforts we don’t just have the usual classes for the children, but also other entertaining and art classes like music and painting, which help reduce the amount of anxiety and depression that refugees feel. This way living in the camps become less like torture and more like an adventure.
In just a matter of months Wave of hope for the future has improved from a simple school to a humanitarian institution. We have now among other things language courses in German, French, Greek, Arabic, Farsi and English. When it comes to art and music we have classes where both children and adults learn to play the guitar, violin, drawing and painting. We have also different exhibitions where refugees present their arts and sell their handicrafts. And considering the Covid-19 situation we have lately had an awareness team to enlighten the refugees about the virus, give them hand desinfection, masks, gloves and hand soap.
We aim at having more schools in other camps where currently there are no opportunity for education. Right now we are working on starting a school in Malakasa camp in Athens, and also another project under the name of High Quality Education For Children which will soon be opened in Afghanistan.
With a little hope, lots of courage and the company of other brave and brilliant individuals – refugees – we have succeeded to make once an impossible idea to a huge reality. Our team consists of the people from different nations, religions, races and faiths, all of whom believe in humanity and peace. People who don’t just sit and wait for the future to solve their problems, but who stand together and use whatever little opportunity they have to make something beautiful out of it. I am truly proud and happy to have done so much good for other refugees in need together with my team, despite all the challenges and tiresome hardships along the way.
We hope that the politicians of the world will see our work as a symbol of unity and peace and learn from it. We know that racism, discrimination, inequality and all the other things that bring injustice and distinguish the citizens of the earth are evil and must stop. I believe that with some hope for the future, some courage and love we can do the impossible and make life a beautiful adventure – just like me and my team did. Long live humanity!
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Zekria Farzad is a 41 years old human rights activist born in Kabul, Afghanistan. He is currently living in Athens together with his wife and five children – after living one year in Moria refugee camp. Basically he is a graduated student in journalism and is the chairman of Farda e Ziba (Beautiful Tomorrow) magazine, which is published once a month in Kabul. Apart from that he has established many other social and educational institutions in and outside Afghanistan. His latest – and probably the best work yet – is establishing Wave of hope for the future, which is a source of hope and inspiration for the refugees in Greece.
Zekria says: “I am a servant of humanity and I enjoy helping the ones in need. I think anybody can make a change, however small it may be, it still counts. Life is neither hard nor easy, it is what we want it to be. It could be a great adventure, if only we are ready to do what it takes to make it one.”