This is Murtaza Ramuzi, a 16-year-old Afghan refugee. A group of us soccer moms at my son’s football club in KL support him. Murtaza is a gifted footballer who played in the Afghan U14s national team. Due to economic hardships, and instability caused by years of war, his family knew that he would not be able to have a future in Afghanistan. They scraped enough money to send him away, alone, at age 14, in the hopes of a better life.  He arrived in Kuala Lumpur via India in 2018.

While registered with UNHCR as a refugee, Murtaza found odd jobs carrying stock to earn money for subsistence and to afford a small flat that he shares with a few other young refugee boys like him. This was his life then as a 14-year-old boy with no support whatsoever in a foreign land.

Our group of soccer moms noticed that he was losing weight and always looked tired during the games. Eventually, we discovered that he was working 12-hour days while not in school! We were shocked and saddened to also hear that he was planning to drop out of school so he could work, just to survive here in Malaysia.

We started by helping him with dinners, gave him pre-loved football gear and taking turns driving him to daily football training. Eventually, we realised we needed to do something to help him in the long term so that he doesn’t have to choose between getting an education or his next meal. Eleven of us soccer moms came together and started a fund that will cover his rent, food, and school for the next 2 years, enabling him to finish secondary school. It is nothing fancy, but it alleviates some pressure off Murtaza so that he can concentrate on his books and his love of football.

There are many such examples of children who are too old for the system, but too young to be left to fend for themselves. They need our help. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) figures put half of all refugee children, which is 3.7 million of them, out of school. At the secondary level, the figures drop further, with only 24% of refugee children in school, compared to 84% of similar-aged children globally. No child who has the opportunity to attend school should have to choose between getting an education or filling his stomach. Let us all help make a difference.

 

Jiak Woen Khor is QNET’s Head of PR & Communications who wants to see a world where no child will be put in a position where they have to choose between education and food.