Several years ago, Shikhali (Ali for short) was walking to school with his cousin when a car bomb exploded near them and they were both severely injured. Ali lost most of his left leg in the explosion. He was given an old, abandoned prosthetic leg, which allowed him to be autonomous, but it caused him great pain.
He watched his village destroyed by local militants, and personally counted 355 dead bodies as he helped to pile his family, friends and community into a mass grave.
Ali left Afghanistan with a few family members, often carrying his young nephew on his back. He crossed a mountain range on foot, helping his young nieces and nephews along the way. While in the mountains, his plastic leg broke several times, so he repaired it using sticks and duct tape to continue forward.
I met him in Greece. He was friendly, calm, and loved by all in the camp. He is a natural leader, a mature and noble man with the wisdom of someone five times his age. Other camp members told us about all of the wonderful things he had done for others: He had saved a young mother from a suicide attempt, had advocated for a camp member with leukemia to get the treatment she needed, and was protecting his five nieces and nephews who were with him in the camp. He is the embodiment of selfless service and sacrifice. He is quiet and confident, friendly and sincere.
Since we met, Ali gave his last 500 euros to a smuggler who brought him to France. He currently lives under a bridge in Paris, in a tent, with only a thin jacket and the clothes he wore when he left the camp in Greece. He says that food is scarce, there is no way for him to earn more money, and most of the refugees around him struggle to stay warm and sleep during the night.
Ali is truly noble. He is a survivor and a leader. He is calm in the face of peril, compassionate in times of tragedy. I am honored to have met him, and hope to see him find refuge soon.
OCTOBER 2016 UPDATE
WRITTEN BY TEAM MEMBER Melissa Dalton-Bradford
A remarkable story is unfolding in the wild and wondrous land of social media. It stretches from Portland, Oregon to Oinofyta, Greece, and traverses Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, London, Frankfurt and Paris.
This is Ali, an Afghan our TSOS team interviewed and filmed this summer in a refugee camp in Greece. He'd walked there from Afghanistan on a worn, corroded, duct-taped prosthetic left leg, carrying his nephew and helping other unaccompanied minors along the way. (Ali lost his left leg to a car bomb. His friend lost both legs. Across war-torn Afghanistan and Syria amputees are innumerable.)
Only 48 hours ago, when TSOS posted Ali's original story, we discovered that this remarkable young man is now in Paris, so we made swift connections with friends volunteering in those Parisian street camps. In fact, we shook every French connection we have to find help, and fast.
We are now trying to get Ali together with his new, state-of-the art, donated protheses. However, that leg is still in Greece. Ali is now in Paris, where he's living literally on the streets. That is urgent enough, but the urgency is heightened because, according to the buzz in the gutters, those very street camps in which Ali and hundreds of other refugees are residing will be evacuated by French police in a matter of days, even hours.
Random people from France, Germany, Switzerland, England, Greece and the US - all connected via social media - have been scrambling non-stop, trying to work through solutions to get Ali and his leg - or better, Ali WITH his leg - to a safe place.
There is wonder and power in social media. But even more in humanity. We see proof of that every day.
DECEMBER 2016 UPDATE
WRITTEN BY TEAM MEMBER Melissa Dalton-Bradford
Thanks to the minor miracle of social media and the major miracle of human goodness, Ali, (who recently made it from Greece to Paris without his new prosthetic leg) will finally get that new leg. It was hand delivered to Germany this week by friend Rebecca Holt Stay, who volunteers full time overseeing refugee work throughout Europe.
Galvanized by compassion and grit, Paris-based friends Christine Dolan, Nadja Pettitt-Kummer, Diana Holman, Beatrice Motamedi, and Hgt Manas have been shepherding Ali through the French legal and medical system. Thanks to them, Ali is currently in a safe and promising place. He is taking necessary steps forward (he's in French class already), but those steps will be far easier once he as his leg.
So I get to do the easy part: In a few hours, I board a train to Paris loaded with 4 XXL suitcases of winter clothing donated by wonderful US friends, and another strangely shaped parcel wrapped in bright blue plastic, with a Turkish Airlines sticker on what looks like ... the toes of a foot.