“My father taught me never to give up”

“I like ancient Greek, because it is easy, and I can learn more about the language and speak better the modern Greek”, says the 15-year-old Ali from Pakistan, who goes to high school and speaks Greek fluently. We met Ali and his teacher, Kiki, one afternoon in the SolidarityNow Blue Refugee Center in Thessaloniki, where he attends the educational programs, provided pro bono to refugees and migrants. Tall and serious, but with a huge smile on his face sits with us and talks about his life in his new city, Thessaloniki.

“I speak better Greek in the classroom, now I don’t know what has happened to me”, says Ali, visibly anxious with the interview. But he is hard on himself, as his Greek is very good. Ali lives in Greece with his family for the past three years. They were forced to leave Pakistan when he was eight years old. Before coming to Greece, they lived for a while in Saudi Arabia. They arrived in Kos island through Turkey and then they came to Athens, where he attended the first two years of high school. “In the beginning, life in Athens was difficult. I struggle a lot to learn the language”, he tells us. Things changed when his father got a job. Although he was an engineer, he found work as an interpreter in a big international organization because of his english language knowledge. “People embraced us; gradually. I played a game on the computer and because I was good, I started to hang out with my classmates”, he notes.

They live in Thessaloniki for the past five months. “I didn’t want to come here, but I had to because of my dad’s work”, Ali says. But now he has been adjusted to his new life. Every day he wakes up early in the morning goes to school, returns home and in the afternoon, he attends Greek, English, Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics classes at the Blue Refugee Center. “I like the Blue Refugee Center very much, because Mrs. Kiki is very good with me and helps me like all other teachers”, he adds. Kiki, Ali’s teacher, works as an educator in the Center, speaks with affection and admiration for her student: “Ali is diligent, he won’t leave the class unless he has done all of his exercises and he encourages his 14-year-old brother to do the same. Also, he acts -in a very special way- protectively towards his classmates and teachers. He will ask his classmates to be quiet and at the same time he will help them. He is very optimist and more mature than his age. He is one step ahead”. “I’m like that, because of my dad, who is better than me. I admire him, and I want to be like him”, Ali tells us.

“My favourite lessons are physics and ancient Greek”, he underlines. We ask him if he remembers a word in ancient Greek and chooses the word “Siren”, because in his country it is used as a name. He loves Greek mythology and tells us that now, at his school, they get familiar with Euripides’s “Eleni”. He wants to study software engineering, “because I like it and because I’m good at computers”, he notes. He tells us proudly that since he was nine years old, he has learned to use Microsoft Office, he knows photoshop, and now he is learning AutoCad. In addition to these, Ali has managed to make new friends: “My friend Giannis is from Albania and every day we watch anime (Japanese cartoons) and with my friend Nikos from Greece we are talking about online games”. We ask him if he plays sports. He replies that he likes basketball but admits that he is not good at sports; “I’m good at computers”, he states smiling.

Ali is a unique teenager, dear to his friends and teachers. He immediately grabs attention with his personality. Although young, he is quite mature. Sometimes, life conditions make you grow up faster. From an early age, along with his family, they found themselves on the road, literally and metaphorically. “I learned a lot from this trip. It was a difficult trip. I have not forgotten anything, I remember everything”, he confesses. However, what makes him have such a positive attitude towards life? I learned it from my father. He taught me never to give up”, he notes.

Hence, he wants to send a message to the children who will read his story. “They have to try and learn Greek. Some kids don’t speak Greek because they feel ashamed or fear that the others will misunderstand them. But I’m not afraid. I like to speak Greek with Greeks because I learn a lot of things”, he concludes.

*SolidarityNow’s Blue Refugee Center, is supported by the UNHCR and UNICEF and funded by ECHO European Commission – Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations.