THE BLOG
19/03/2018 10:19 GMT | Updated 19/03/2018 10:20 GMT

It Took Three Years But I Am No Longer A Refugee. I Am A Teacher Again

My battle is not finished yet. I still have to fight to see my family again

LOUISA GOULIAMAKI via Getty Images

This is Mohammad’s story. In a series of blogs this week he will be talking us through his journey from Syria to Greece and the difficulties he faced along the way. You can find the first blog here

I will never forget the name of Moria.

When we arrived at that camp, we asked for a wheelchair, but nobody helped us or even told us what to do.

They put us in a place that looked like a lock-up. A while later I had time to see that the refugee camp consisted of three main parts: the upper, which was for families; the second part, which was divided in three sections: section A for special cases, section B for minors, and section C for single women and their children; and the third part, which was for men.

I spent my first week there, in that kind of lock-up. During that period, I had to finish my registration papers but I didn’t have my wheelchair to move from place to place, so my nephew carried me on his back. We went to many offices and asked many organisations about my wheelchair but there was no answer. It took 10 days until I finally got one. But, until that time, my only option to go from one place to another was my nephew who helped me a lot. He even carried me to the toilet. Trust me, to be carried on somebody´s back, with everyone looking at you, makes you feel inhuman. The only thing I wanted was to live as I used to.

During my days in Moria I slept in a big tent. My nephew and I had bunkbeds. Our walls were blankets. This was the only separation between us and our neighbours.

But the thing I will never forget is that, it was in there, in the camp of Moria, where I lost my name. Wherever I went they would not care about my name, I was not Mohammad anymore, I was just a simple number, the number of my container, the number of my case… that has been me since then.

I stayed in Moria camp for 35 days, then I came to Athens, to Eleonas camp, a place where I could finally find myself again.

I heard I was being moved to Athens on 25th of October. Two days after, they picked us up with buses and took us to the port. This time it was different, there was no reason to be worried or afraid of the police because this time everything was legal. We arrived at the port and we got on the boat. Our journey started at 7pm and it took one hour to get to Athens.

When we arrived, we got onto a new bus. There were nearly 70 of us coming from Moria camp. I sat close to window because I wanted to see Athens, the city I had been reading so much about, the city of philosophy.

We arrived to Eleonas camp in the early morning. I was shocked when I saw it because in Moria the UN staff had told me that I would be going to an apartment not to another camp.

I was one of two disabled men in that group, the other being an old man in his 60s. An employee from the Ministry (who regularly works at the camp) said that nobody had told them that there were “disability situations” in the group of people coming.

Apparently, the camp was not suitably equipped for us. It was such an emotional and hard time. It was just too much. At first, my nephew and I refused to enter the container because It wasn’t what they’d promised to us in Moria.

A Greek man, working at the camp, came and took me out, near the gate: “Do you see this?” he said while pointing out two tents. These tents belong to some people who wanted to register at the camp as refugees. “Their requests were refused so they are sleeping in a tent,” he added. “They are waiting to enter where you refuse to.”  He insisted and told me that it was better for me to accept the container because, otherwise, I would not find any place to stay.

After three hours of cleaning and tidying our new container, we went inside. It was our new house but we had to improve it. The next day my nephew began to plant some flowers and plants on the window of our room.

My first problem here was to find a good wheelchair, because the one that I brought from Moria was very heavy and impossible to wheel myself. The second problem was to get my medicine for my diabetes and blood pressure. I had a woman as a neighbour, called Om Omar, who recommended I go to Omonia, an area in Athens. “There are many organisations to help you,” she said to me. I went to an organisation called Doctors of the World  and they gave me my medicine. Another organisation called Praksis provided me with another wheelchair, lighter and easier to move than my old one.

After I got my new wheelchair, I began to discover the camp of Eleonas.

One day I went to the office of social services to ask for some papers. It was the first time I had been there since arriving three days before. Next to social services’ container, was a brightly coloured one, with a name written on its door: “Project Elea”.

I went towards a woman volunteering there. She was in her thirties, with blue eyes, blonde hair and a charming smile on her face. She was Mary and she went on to explain to me what Project Elea does. “It is a friendly and enthusiastic team of international volunteers,” she said. “We work in collaboration with the residents of Eleonas camp to improve living standards and community well-being,” she went on. 

You can donate to Mohammad’s JustGiving page below: 

Project Elea

Before long, I could see myself how this project entirely depends on the creativity, generosity and energy of the volunteers. Mary introduced me to Emily, one of the coordinators of Project Elea. She helped me a lot. I started to have English lessons, and since January of this year I have been teaching English at Project Elea.

Now I am teacher again and I am not a refugee anymore. I have returned to being a useful and helpful member of my community. My students are from different nationalities: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. 

I am really grateful to every single volunteer who collaborates or have been collaborating with Project Elea. You are all making a difference.

But there are some volunteers who are special for me and I want to express my gratitude to:

Mary Biles, thanks for holding my hand and helped me to stand up again. I would not have written this without you.

Lidia Márquez, “my granddaughter”. She is my Spanish friend, a volunteer who is helping me with this project, typing what I write. I will keep thanking you every day for what you are doing for me.

Daphne, “my daughter”, who helped me a lot, together with Tiago, a Greek and Portuguese volunteer who brought me to the best views of Athens. Thanks, I will never forget that day.

Ali Murat, a Cypriot volunteer who is like my brother. Thanks for being by my side during the month of January.

Simon, a German volunteer who helped me a lot, a really hard worker who prepared and kept preparing a lot of things that make my life much easier here at the camp.

Gerard, a Spanish volunteer who truly show me what a real friend is.

Jess Austin, a from the HuffPost who accepted to publish my story. Thanks for making this real.

As well, I would like to thanks to some people who work at the camp: Georgia Paulaki, coordinator in Eleonas camp; Aliki Sofianu, a very helpful Greek woman who works in the medical centre; Joanna Karra, a Greek employee of the Ministry who always shares tea with me, I respect her a lot; Maria Konstadoulaki and Eirini Sotiropoulous, my Greek teachers.

Thanks so much to all of you from the bottom of my heart, none of this would have been the same without you.

But my battle is not finished yet. I still have to fight to see my family again and make up for these three years that it have been stolen from us.

You don’t need legs to stand up, you just need a heart and a brain.

Mohammad Ali Madania

You can donate to Mohammad’s JustGiving page below: