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Laptop provides refugee poet with voice for his prose

Mohammad Zai Parishan with his first ever computer

„I have written some poetry for you,“ Mohammad Zai Parishan proudly told me when I finally found him at the local hospital at Surkhab Refugee Village in Balochistan, where he had been for a regular check-up. “I knew you would be coming back.”

About six weeks ago, I visited the 21-year-old man, who is suffering from severe polio. The reason for my trip with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency I currently work for, to the village near Quetta was to give Parishan a new wheelchair, which should facilitate his daily journey to school. The visit turned out to be a very special one, as I was enchanted by this bright and witty young man, who revealed that apart from studying he also loved writing poetry. “I guess the next thing I need is a computer to write down my poetry,” Parishan told the team on their departure – and little did he know that his wish would be heard in a country far away from Pakistan. After having read Parishan’s story on the UNHCR website, the University of Toronto in Canada got in touch with me wondering whether it would be possible to donate a laptop to Mohammad.

“We read about your desire to write poetry on the UN Refugee Agency’s website, and were deeply touched by your eagerness to learn.  Please accept this laptop computer as a gift from FIMRC UofT, and use it to pursue your dream,” Madiha Naseem, the Co-President of the Foundation for International Medial Relief of Children  – University of Toronto Chapter  (FIMRC UofT) wrote in a letter accompanying the brand-new laptop computer for Mohammad.

Mohammad, who prefers to use his poet’s name ‘Parishan’, was unable to go to school for about ten years as he did not even have a wheelchair to move around. However, after UNHCR had given this young Afghan refugee a mean of transport he was finally able to quench his thirst for knowledge and join his peers in their education. When he was 17, he attended school and he was so eager to learn that he completed three school years in one. “My mother was always eager for me to learn and even though I had received religious education at home, I could not absorb enough information when I was finally able to attend school.”

The blood of my heart

But even though his studies kept him very busy, he did not give up writing his poetry. When we arrived with the surprise gift in mid December, he was very pleased to see us and invited us to his house without knowing what he was just about to get. When everyone sat down in the simple surroundings of the family’s mudhouse, Parishan got out his notebook and started to read the poems, he said he had written especially for us. “While I was writing poetry I ran out of ink but I carried on writing with the blood of my heart,” said one of his poems, which were written in the local language, Pasthoo.

Parishan continued to read for about ten minutes and the audience, which consisted of the local village boys, the boy’s father and his brothers, was captivated by his words and every once in a while the crowd groaned in amazement of the talent of the young writer. “This is very beautiful and I wish I could write like that,” said Mirwise Jalil, who translated Parishan’s poems into English. After putting his pink notebook down, Parishan’s eye caught the laptop, which had miraculously appeared in front of him. “I cannot believe that you actually came back to give me this amazing gift,” he said. “This will give me even more incentive to work more and write more,” he said with a huge smile while unwrapping this generous present.

Happy to be reunited with Mohammad Ali and Mirwise Jalal

This was the first time Parishan was actually touching a computer, and getting to grips with the touchpad and the intricacies of a laptop, which for most of us are part of our daily lives, will certainly take some time. However, during our crash course in ‘how to use a computer’, he actually halved his time in writing his own name. “All fun and games,” he spurted out in broken English after having written his name for the third time in a stunning 30 seconds.

With the winter holiday break having just started and schools only opening again at the beginning of March, Parishan will have time to spend the cold winter months exploring his new computer. UNHCR will also sign him up in the computer class of the village school, which will help him greatly to find out how to best use it.

And if he carries on writing such beautiful poetry, he might soon be following into the footsteps of his great idol, the 17th century Afghan poet Rahman Baba, as FIMRC at the University of Toronto has offered to publish his poems on their website. “When you have written something you would like to share, let us know and we would be happy to publish Parishan poetry in our newsletters and website,” Madiha Naseem concluded her letter.

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