Putting smiles on every child’s face

Тhe story of Behishta Ahmadi and her four children

Stanislava Stambolieva
За да има усмивки на детските лица
Caritas Sofia/2017
02 February 2019

The project ‘We Play and Learn' by Caritas, supported by UNICEF, is a centre of gravity for the children in the refugee centre in Sofia's district of Ovcha kupel. It helps them close the gloomy chapters of the past and turn the page, hoping for a better life.
Some stories make you cry – they are real images full of pain, telling about the strength of the human spirit. You can hear so many of those at the centre for asylum seekers in Ovcha kupel. And they seem to be coming to us to kindle our faith in and hope for a better world. One of these stories is the story of Behishta Ahmadi and her four children. They travelled all the way from Afghanistan to Bulgaria to find protection and defend their right to live together.

In their home city of Kabul this was no longer possible after Behishta's husband was shot dead in the street one day on his way home. By an irony of fate, she was giving birth to their son Matin at that time. She learned of her loss hours later in the hospital. The tragedy turned her life into a nightmare, because, following the Afghan tradition, Behishta had to either marry her deceased husband's brother or lose her children and her home.

Despite her fear, she resisted being forced into marriage, which drew down the family's anger upon her. The abuse that followed, induced by excessive stress and the discovery that Matin had an autistic disorder, forced her to consider fleeing to find a better future for herself and her children. She was helped by her sister, living in Germany. With her financial support, Behishta made it with her three daughters and Matin to the Ovcha kupel centre for asylum seekers. There she found not only shelter and consolation for her children but also a chance for a new beginning. Days in the centre pass free from anxiety and fear, and the children enjoy their favourite pursuits within the project 'We Play and Learn’ by Caritas and UNICEF.

За да има усмивки на детските лица
Caritas Sofia/2017

‘This programme has made them smile again,' their teacher Yoana, whom they are truly fond of, says. She adds: ‘Every day they play, dance and sing, learning all the time. They already use a lot of Bulgarian words. Even Matin, who spends a few hours a day in the programme's activities, has become calmer and not so shy.’

Behishta shares that Yoana is something more than just a teacher to her daughters because the time spent with her within the ‘We Play and Learn' programme helps distract them for a while from the horrors they went through and be children again. As she speaks, tears glimmer in her eyes, together with hope for a happier future far from Kabul.

*This is based on true story, names and images are changed to protect children’s privacy.