By ex-DAFI student Dr. Hayat Mohammad Ahmadzai; MBBS, Diploma Health Planning & Management, Diploma International Human Rights Law, continuing M.SC. in Epidemiology & Biostatistics.
According to my parents, on 20 March 1975, a beautiful day of spring when roses were blooming fully, spreading it’s fragrance in every direction, the peak of the mountains were still covered with snow and wild flower spread over the foot steeps of mountains in a scene of paradise, the bird announced my birth where deer, wild boar and the timber wolf are dancing in the magnificent valley of Logar province, Azro District (or locally known as Azra) in Afghanistan.
Since I was the first child of my parents, and my grandfather was the head of tribe, this event was celebrated for one week according to tribal tradition and custom. Lots of friends and relatives came over to see me. As time passed, my parents, like all parents, were anxiously waiting for when I would be crawling, standing, talking and running.
In 1978 my father went to Germany on a business trip, where he faced many problems, particularly as he was illiterate, and not being able to communicate with people without an interpreter. He returned with a burning desire: “I could not get education but I will do all for my children’s education”. From that day my father had decided to send me to school and was anxiously waiting for that day.
As I grew up, my parents waited for the day they would send me to school. But things turned out differently. One day, when I was a child of hardly four years of age, I was playing with friends when all of a sudden Jet fighters appeared just like a thunder in blue sky. We all ran home in crying and shouting. Even after my mother took me in her arms, my heart was fast beating while I was shivering with fear. I cannot forget that day when there was no place to hide. On that day many people died, also children. As bombardment continued and intensified day-by-day, elderly people, children and women used to go and hide in the caves of the near-by mountains. Again and again we had to hide in the caves while fighting intensified. In a couple of weeks, the whole district was destroyed. In every home there was mourning. People were left with nothing except to run for their lives to brotherly Pakistan. We all embarked on a horrifying three-day journey through snow-covered mountains, where many died because of cold weather or bombardment. As we reached the Parachinar border in Pakistan, we found ourselves in extremely miserable conditions.
With no food at all we were close to starving. The first who came forward to help us was UNHCR who provided us with food and utensils, shelter and other basic necessities of life. Then we were shifted to refugee camp no.3 Badaber (Peshawar) where all basic facilities were provided.
15 April 1980. I still remember the white tents spread over large area. Among these tents there was one large tent, which was arranged for education purposes. As my father had this burning desire to provide me with education, he took me to school on the very
first week of our arrival. My teacher gave me books, a bag, stationary and even school clothes including shoes, provided by UNHCR.
Slowly and gradually the war intensified. More and more refugees came to stay in the camp, thus our school kept on expanding. As time passed, the UNHCR tent school was converted into a mud-made school, and my education continued day and night. Since I was the one of hard working students and on my school’s first bench, my Pakistani teachers advised my father: “ You must send your son for higher education and he will will bring great honor for you”. After completing primary school my father send me to a nearby government school, as at that time only primary education was provided in refugee camps. I was so much inspired and motivated by my teachers and parents, that I turned out to be the best student in every class. I completed my secondary school in 1990 with outstanding academic records throughout my school time. And I qualified for admission in the countries’ historic Islamia College Peshawar. This was the golden
period of my life. All these processes of admission were sponsored by UNHCR. I cannot forget those hard days in my life, when, like every other student, but especially as a refugee, I was facing financial problems. So I applied for a scholarship. After two weeks’ time, one day, during tea break, I received a message from the finance department of our college that UNHCR will provide me with a scholarship. This was not only a scholarship, but in fact it was a candle of hope which lid for me through the dark era of events in my country to a path for my future. With this candle of education and hope I continued my studies. After two years, I completed very successfully my class 12 with an A grade. After passing the entry test to the Army Medical College, which is the country’s best Medical College, I qualified as the first refugee student of this prestigious institution , which I then joined on 14 April 1994.
Since then, the dreams of my parents were getting closer to reality. As time never stops, finally the day of my graduation came. When my parents saw me receiving a degree of honor (Captain) from the Surgeon General of Pakistan, they could not control tears of happiness running down from their eyes, as the convocation hall echoed with clapping. This day, 15 April 1998 had been the dream of my parents. I left the college with an oath to serve humanity the best way I can. Thus I was the first doctor from my district Azra province Logar (Afghanistan).
After completing a one-year mandatory internship in a hospital, UNHCR provided me with an internship to serve my community in one of its project for malaria control for Afghan refugees (since malaria is major public health problem and refugees are a high-risk group with a high death rate, especially pre-school children). I continued this project as research officer. As I spend more and more time in field and observed the burden of disease among refugees, my heart was enlightened with desire to learn advance tools and methods to fight this deadly disease. So along with my work, I took courses in “health planning and management” so as to learn various ways and methods to control this disease. After six months, Peshawar University announced for the first time a diploma course in human rights, in collaboration with Norway. Being a refugee I have faced all kinds of hardships, which inspired me to take the entry test, which qualified me for admission. I continued this project from February 2000 to 2001, serving the refugee community in morning, and meanwhile studying again in evening.
It happened so that one day a young girl of class six came to hospital with fever. After examining her thoroughly, I finally diagnosed her with malaria based on laboratory investigation and other clinical findings. After prescribing the required medicine, she went home by herself as she was feeling well after taking Paracetamol. The next day when I came to hospital, every one was mourning as the poor girl had died of malaria. Her condition had worsened during the night, before her parents could take her to hospital again. This was the most painful day of my life. From that day I decided to fight malaria that, according to WHO (World Health Organization), kills one child every 10 seconds, with refugees being particularly vulnerable. As there is high resistance to standard antimalarial drugs and in view of the need to come up with better medicines, I decided to donate my life to the field of medical research, especially malaria and tuberculosis. As the Aga Khan University is the only institution of advanced preventive medicine in Pakistan, I received admission to this institution after passing the entry test and interview as the first-ever refugee student in postgraduate programmes. When I faced financial problems, I contacted UNHCR as my parent organization, and once again they lid the journey of my success. It is not only me but thousands of refugee students are lighting their candle from this source in all fields of education.
In such short time I have achieved many successes ranging from MBBS (basic degree in medical sciences), Postgraduate Diploma Health Planning & Management, postgraduate Diploma International Human Rights Law and am still continuing M.Sc. Epidemiology & Biostatistics as future researcher in field of medicine, especially malaria & tuberculosis. All these successes that I achieved in this short but tough period of my life was only possible with the extensive support from UNHCR under the DAFI scholarship programme. After completing my postgraduate studies I will be in better position to serve the humanity.
At the end let me formally give meaning to my success story that “Kindness is the language which deaf can hear and blind can see”. Although I do not have sufficient words, on behalf of all refugee student of this region I seize this opportunity to thank UNHCR, the DAFI fund (the German Government) and all those who are directly or indirectly involved in this education project.