As part of our #HuffPostListens week in Birmingham, we are publishing a series of Life Less Ordinary stories from extraordinary residents of the city. Today, student Waleed Khan tells his story of surviving a school attack in his native Pakistan, and how moving to Birmingham helped him find a greater purpose. To illustrate the series we have commissioned the respected photographer Vanley Burke to do a series of portraits, which will be on show in Birmingham this week.
I remember everything from that day. One moment my classmates and I were laughing and joking, the next there were loud bangs and armed terrorists broke down the door. They shot all my friends, they shot all my teachers. They were aiming at our heads, so they could kill as many of us as possible. That was four years ago in December 2014 - that day, everything changed.
We were in the school auditorium having a first aid lecture and I was standing on the stage, because I was head boy. One of the terrorists aimed his gun at me and shot me in the face. I went down and thought everything was finished. I couldn’t believe my eyes, all I could think was: how can I die? What about my dreams? What about my friends? What about my family?
I was crying and in a lot of pain. When one of the terrorists realised I was still alive, he came over and shot me again and again. I had six bullets shot in my face and one touched my head, but thankfully it didn’t go in. I had a lot of facial damage: my jaw was totally finished, my teeth were all broken, the bottom of my nose was broken. It was very traumatic. My friends were dying in front of me but I couldn’t do anything for them because I was helpless myself.
I managed to crawl outside of the auditorium but I was so weak that I fell down in front of the library. Suddenly, the students who were running behind me were now running over me - because of that my wrists got broken, my hands were badly damaged. I was trying to speak, but I couldn’t because my face was totally open. I was trying to move my hands to say “I’m still alive, don’t run on me” – but no one was looking down.
Only one thing was in my mind: I had to keep myself conscious. If my eyes closed, everyone would think I was dead. At this point I realised I’d also been shot in the leg, so I started hitting my injured leg to keep myself conscious.
I eventually got rescued by the military and taken to hospital. I was conscious but I couldn’t tell them so - I couldn’t move or speak. I’d lost so much blood I couldn’t even move my fingers. At first, they thought I was dead and put my body with the other dead bodies.
I don’t know what made me think of this idea, but I started taking long breaths. My face was covered in blood and so when I breathed out little blood bubbles started forming. One of the nurses saw and told the doctors that I was still alive - I was rushed to the operation theatre and then was in a coma for eight days. Doctors didn’t think I would survive, but I did.
I was eventually transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in April 2015, because in Pakistan they don’t have advanced technology to treat critical cases like me. I had my first surgery here and I returned to the UK more permanently in February 2017 for further treatment. I’ve been here for 18 months but my mother and siblings are still in Pakistan - I video call them every day and miss them very much.
By this point in my recovery, I had missed two years of education, so I started school again at the University of Birmingham School. When I first joined I found it difficult to adjust but everyone – the students, the teachers, the staff members – showed me kindness and support when I shared my story. For this, I am really grateful and speechless. Because of them it didn’t take me long to adjust to a new environment.
I still think about that day sometimes. I still have nightmares. Whenever I hear a loud noise or shout, I still get scared. In the beginning it was difficult for me both physically and mentally to recover from that trauma. Physically because I had many injuries, but the most unbelievable pain was that I had lost many of my best friends and teachers.
I briefly had therapy, but it was my family helped me through. I remember sitting in the hospital on my bed and crying for my friends. My mother was sitting with me on a chair and she asked: “If you cry for your friends now, will they come back?” Instead of crying for them, she said, now you have to fulfil their dreams. She told me God had saved my life for a purpose.
Before this incident I wanted to live for myself and now I want to live for others. I want to share my story with young people and spread the message of peace around the world. I’m trying to help those being radicalised, who are being manipulated by organisations like Isis in the name of religion. Above all religion, across all creeds, casts and nationalities there is only one thing we can all believe in: humanity.
I always tell people in Birmingham, what you have here is really lucky. In the UK, the children are really lucky. They have so much opportunity, an amazing schooling system and, above all, peace. Millions of children and human beings want around the world want peace in their country and peace in their homes. It’s a dream life for them, the way people live here.
I do different activities outside school as well. Whenever I find opportunities to help other people. I am head boy at school again, I was elected in Youth Parliament elections to represent the students of Birmingham. I didn’t think I would win and now we are running different campaigns to help young people around England and around the UK.
Sometimes it is hard to tell my story, but when you go through certain situations in life, these kind of situations give you more patience, determination and strength.
This incident gave me more than pain and agony, it gave me strength and patience. I wasn’t this patient, this strong and I didn’t have a positive attitude before. It changed me in a positive way - what has happened has happened and I can’t change it. If I sit down and cry about what has happened, I won’t get anything, I will only get negative things. Instead, I should get the positive out of it and I should have a purpose in life.
As told to Brogan Driscoll
HuffPostListens – Birmingham
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