“Older yes, stronger though. As long as we live, we must move forward. I have always fought in my life and I will continue to do so, as long as I’m alive”.
On the International Day for Older Persons, we celebrate the 81-year-old Mr. Ali from Syria. He had to reach 78 to add one more property in his life; that of the refugee.
Mr. Ali followed his daughter’s family on their long trip away from Syria, which began shortly after a bomb exploded in the kitchen of the family while they were having lunch. He never thought doing otherwise – “I have no one else and I would do everything to protect my grandchildren. I don’t care where I will die”.
So, it happened. After Turkey and their temporary residence in the camp of Moria in Lesvos, the family moved to a SolidarityNow apartment in Athens, as part of the ESTIA** accommodation program. “I had heard that Greece is beautiful, and its people are friendly”, he says, and while smiling like a child behind his red presbyopia glasses, he adds: “Besides, I had never travelled outside Syria”.
Mr. Ali, a widower, and father of a daughter struggled to reach Greece. But even before that, he did not have an easy life. He is a man who worked hard and literally his hands eventually made him a successful businessman. These hands that from an early age seemed to have a talent for sewing. Thus, Mr. Ali escaped from his destiny of working as a servant, a fate determined in those years by his poor family.
Luck smiled on him and a friend suggested he worked with him on sewing handkerchiefs. He did it and with their hard work, they managed to become partners and eventually create together an industry exporting handmade silk products. While working he learned to read and write. His work enabled his family to live comfortably, something that was violently interrupted by the war.
Mr. Ali never lost his courage and still supports his daughter and her family in any way he can – emotionally, morally, financially. Today, he and the rest of the family are in Germany, where they managed to reunite with the family’s sixth child, the 17-year-old Sehrazat.
Ali is a living proof of the active role of the older persons by providing -among others- support to their children by taking care of their grandchildren. They are the ones who carry valuable experience and knowledge and help and encourage, in so many tangible and intangible ways the youngers.
* The International Day of Older Persons is observed on October 1 each year. On December 14, 1990, the United Nations General Assembly voted to establish October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons. It is a day to appreciate the contributions that older people make to society and to raise awareness about issues affecting the elderly.
**Mr. Ali and his family were beneficiaries of the SolidarityNow accommodation program as part of the ESTIA program implemented by the UNHCR and funded by the Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund of the European Union.