Sitting on the floor of a small apartment in downtown Athens, 47-year-old Farhad Nawabi* dwells upon his days of ceaseless movement in rural Afghanistan. It was just him and his wife, driving around remote villages with their mobile orthopaedic workshop, to heal pain, relieve discomfort and improve the daily lives of people with mobility impairment. Their services included prosthetic parts, orthotic appliances and assistive devices, like crutches, walkers and toilet chairs. Farhad and Maryam – a physiotherapist by trade – helped more than 2000 people annually.
Farhad’s work started due to a personal misfortune. “My dream was to become a mechanical engineer, but I couldn’t make it due to the war. I studied to become a nurse, but I longed to combine the technical with the health component. So, I went to Pakistan and got an orthopaedic qualification,” he explains.
For more than 20 years, Farhad rushed around Afghanistan helping people who struggled with movement, due to paraplegia (leg paralysis), polio or cerebral palsy. In 2016, conflict made it too dangerous for the family to remain. Leaving was their only choice, though it resulted in a disruption to their children’s education.
After crossing from Turkey to the Greek island of Samos, the Nawabis family settled in Athens in January 2017. Education was their first concern. While the parents enrolled in Greek language courses provided by the University of Athens, the children started attending a non-formal learning centre, managed by UNICEF’s partners, Finn Church Aid/Elix.
Just like the Nawabis family, it is estimated that some 13 000 refugee and migrant children in Greece are of a school-going age. Many of them have already missed an average of two and a half years of schooling. The Greek Ministry of Education is committed to a gradual process of including all refugee and migrant children in the country’s formal education system. However, for many, hurdles remain, such as age restrictions on learning activities, language barriers and limited education opportunities on the islands.
While UNICEF is working to support the national education system, it is also providing non-formal learning opportunities - in English language and mother tongue - homework support, as well as life-skills. With funding from EU Humanitarian Aid, more than 3000 refugee and migrant children have benefited from UNICEF’s non formal education programmes, and about 5650 children have received school material.
Education is key in giving children a sense of stability. In the case of the Nawabis, learning activities are also giving them the language tools to continue their life’s work.
“When I was on Samos, I did an informal survey on the problems faced by refugees which confirmed that they had very limited access to proper orthopaedic devices,” Farhad explains. “But when I started working for an orthopaedics' workshop in Athens, I realised that Greeks also have limited access to such devices, given their usually high cost.”
Now, Farhad is drafting a project to offer free orthopaedic assistance to all those in need – irrespective of their nationality or status in the country. Sitting on the floor of his apartment, surrounded by books and notes, he is both studying and designing a new future, which could help hundreds of people at the place he now calls home.
*Name changed for protection reasons