More than words can say: Akram's journey at Faros
Akram has a calm, warm voice. He speaks slowly, in fluent Greek, without any accent. He was born in the coastal city of Latakia in Syria. At 13 years old he had to flee from his country to avoid being recruited into armed groups. “It was like a death sentence,” he says. He was untrained and he would immediately be placed in combat.
His bags were packed for him by family members. At nights he would listen to airplanes dropping missiles far away. During the day, he would go past destroyed buildings and cars. And then, one night, they left.
Leaving his childhood home was not easy, Akram said. “I was very sad. I knew that I wouldn't see my home again, my friends, the park where we played football together. But I was thinking that there was a possibility of a better life in the future,” he adds.
His hopes were shattered too soon. After a month living in Turkey, he crossed the Aegean Sea into the Greek island of Rhodes. Akram was separated from his family and traveled alone to Athens. He arrived at Piraeus, Greece’s biggest port, alone and disoriented. Akram didn’t know who to go to for help and ended up sleeping in a park, not too far from the port, and survived for three months by scavenging for food in the garbage bins of nearby restaurants. He was just 14 years old.
“I didn't know any Greek or English. I spoke only Arabic. I was scared and lost,” he says.
“These three months taught me a lot about myself,” he says. “Once I set my foot into a shelter I felt that my life started again.” In 2016, he came to Faros’ shelter. “I had a dream and it came true at Faros,” he says. “I wanted to learn Greek to build true relationships.” He says he owes his fluency to his “brilliant” Greek language teacher at the shelter and his dear friend, Aggelos, a former caregiver at Faros.
“Aggelos became a father to me,” Akram says. “He showed me that life can be good, even in times when I was only making negative thoughts about myself. He has been a role model for me. He is honest and always encouraging. At Faros, I felt I had a family again.”
Akram is now a young adult. At 19, he works as an interpreter and cultural mediator at another shelter for unaccompanied children in Athens.
His time at Faros, he says, molded him as a person. Now, he wants to give back the care he has received. “I want to use my experience at Faros to help the children at the shelter,” he adds.
For the past months, he has been mentoring a 12-year old boy the way Aggelos mentored him. “I am always on call to support the boys. Even at night. I am the one they call when a child is in trouble.”
He often returns to Faros’ shelter to hang out with the staff, get a home-cooked meal and meet with friends. Early in 2021, Faros’ shelter staff launched an unofficial support program for young adults, who “graduated” from the shelter. The aim is to support them at the beginning of their independent life and through the first years of their adulthood.
This fall Akram will be attending evening middle school classes again, resuming his studies after years of absence.
“I have a bigger dream now,” he says. I want to become a doctor, as I have always dreamt back in Syria.”