Roya has just turned 18. She is from Afghanistan, and she has been living in Greece since she was 15. The first stop of her life in the new country was Samos, then Preveza and Thebes.
In Thebes and in the open accommodation structure for refugees and asylum seekers, Roya got to know SolidarityNow. She attends Greek and English classes at the organization’s “Homework and Creative Activities Center”*. This Center turned out to be more than just a non-formal school for Roya. It became the supportive environment she needed so as to “speak” through her painting.
Roya has been painting since she was very young, but she believes that she found her style at the age of 15. The famous Vincent van Gogh helped her in this; the observation of his paintings slowly led her to find her own style, her unique way of capturing her feelings artistically. And she feels a lot, as she vividly confessed: “I like to paint because it makes me feel free. I want to speak to the world! I have a lot to say about what I feel, about women in Afghanistan who have a voice but cannot be heard. I want to support them through my paintings!”.
Roya is inspired by her emotions, by the difficulties of living in a refugee camp – “it is very difficult sometimes, so difficult that I feel like I am in prison” – while many of her paintings are landscapes that she recalls in her memory from the long trip from Afghanistan to Greece. She loves the blue, red and green colors and sometimes understands that “the colors I use depend on how I feel – sometimes when I’m upset, they are darker”.
When asked what her favorite work is, she tells us about her painting depicting a young girl, Sharbat Gula. Roya took the famous photo of photojournalist Steve McCurry showing the 12-year-old Sharbat from Afghanistan in a refugee camp in Pakistan during the country’s Soviet occupation. Roya painted Sharbat the same as the photo, but with one difference. She removed her mouth. Thus, Sharbat became one of the millions of girls from Afghanistan who have no rights, cannot speak, no one will be found to listen to them.
All of Roya’s dreams are about women in Afghanistan – how to help them through her art, how to get people’s attention to act and support them. She talks about all these to the younger girls in the structure of Thebes to whom she teaches painting. Because Roya loves to teach others as she says. She teaches the younger girls painting and “mainly I want to help them express themselves without fear, teach them to be confident, show them that there are ways to move forward in their lives as they wish.”
Amid all the above, Roya reads literary books, participates with her work in exhibitions and festivals, where she has often managed to sell her paintings and this excites her – “I have been told that I look deep into life…”, she says proudly and shy. In addition, she often escapes from the “prison” of Thebes and visits Athens, where she prepares to take the exams to the School of Fine Arts. After all, she will become a famous painter and “I will show the Afghan women that they can achieve everything!”
The last wish Roya shared with us concerned the artists and the support they need to be able to create. The wish we shared for Roya was multidimensional – to go to the School of Fine Arts, to remain creative and on the side of women who need support, to keep dreaming, teaching and trying!
*The project “All Children in Education” (ACE) is implemented by SolidarityNow with support and funding from UNICEF Greece.