Naapuriäidit: I am a refugee, but I also have another story

by , under Michelle Kaila

Michelle Kaila

Friba Majeed

Friba Majeed was born in Balkh, Afghanistan. She came to Finland in 2014 as a refugee. She is presently doing a work practice at Nicehearts in Vantaa, mainly to practice her Finnish language skills.

These are the kinds of details we, as migrants, might often exchange with others upon meeting.

However, as it is with each of us, there is more to her story.

In Afghanistan, Friba graduated from University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature. She worked as a highschool teacher, and then as Director in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs for 9 years.

Seminar in South Korea, 2008.

As part of her work, Friba would travel to cities and villages in Afghanistan as an advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. This was very challenging at times, because in the communities where she was visiting, there is a lack of education, many of the people are illiterate and not aware of their rights, and the people can also be very resistant to the idea of change. The women are not allowed to go to work outside the house, and the girls cannot attend school. The men want the women to only take care of the children and home, and to prepare the food. Friba would speak to the men and the women in these communities about the girls’ and women’s rights to go to school, to work, and to have a life outside of the house. Friba had also established a safe house for women and girls, and even before that, used to take women and girls who were in need of protection, into her own home.

Many of the men in the society believe that it is shameful, as well as it being against their religion, for women to have a life outside of the house. Friba would try to communicate to them the difference between religion and politics, and that Islam is a religion of peace and equality, where the men and women have the same rights. Many men in the society did not like what she was trying to communicate, and became angry. She was sent a message, that if she did not stay in her house, and if she continued her work, she would be kidnapped and killed. They also threatened to kidnap and kill her youngest brother, who was 14 at the time. “Every day he was afraid to go to school.” Friba said, “and five or six times, people came to my house, wearing masks and with guns, looking for me.”

Friba has been invited to many countries, such as USA, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, among others, to speak about her leadership and advocacy work with women. She was also invited to Finland in 2012 to participate in a seminar on the rights of immigrants. It was at that time that her brother called her and told her she could not return to Afghanistan, because if she did, she would be killed. Since then, she has wanted to go back, but because of these threats, she has been unable to return to her home country. “I had everything,” she says, “a good job, a nice house, and family and friends.”

In 2013, one of her brothers, a 22 year old University student at the time, was kidnapped and murdered by religious extremists. In Afghanistan, he used to be always with her, like a bodyguard. Friba’s mother and younger brother fled to Pakistan, where they are living now. Her mother has health issues and cannot work, and her younger brother is unable to attend school in their present life situation. Since Friba’s father had passed away many years ago, her family have been financially dependent on her.

Friba has applied for family reunification, so that her mother and brother could join her in Finland. She says that her brother is always talking about when he will be in school again, what he will do. “He is very eager to return to school. He is an intelligent and good student.” Friba says, proudly.

Two weeks ago, the application was given a negative decision. Friba hasn’t told her mother and brother yet. She will submit an appeal.

“I want to be strong, “says Friba, “I don’t want to think about what happened in my past. If I do that, I will not be able to go forward.” Friba wants to improve her Finnish language levels, and to apply for a Master’s Degree Programme in Social Work. She says that it is her dream to create an organization for women and girls, to empower them to solve their own problems, and to build their own capacities.

This is just a part of her story, and Friba is now part of the Neighbourhood Mother’s Project in Nicehearts, working together towards her dream to empower women.

In that, and in all her other endeavours, we wish her all the very best.

* Neighbourhood Mothers is Niceheart’s new project aimed at preventing marginalization and isolation of vulnerable ethnic minority women in their local communities.

Read original posting here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

Visit the Niceheart’s project on Facebook here