The World

Samad: the war turned his life upside down and gave him a new one, always for others.

We spoke with Samad Qayumi, originally from Afghanistan, to learn about his story as an immigrant in Europe.

Leticia Sánchez de León-October 14, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes

Photo: Samad Qayumi

Samad is a friend of the Scalabrinian Secular Missionary Sisterswho met him in Solothurn, Switzerland. As it happens with many migrants, he was also found at a very critical moment, shortly after arriving in a foreign land, when the wound of departure is fresh, the uncertainties due to the residence permits are many and the need to share the road with someone is very important.

So it was with Samad: from the first steps, through the different stages of the journey, the friendship has grown and strengthened and his testimony, which from the beginning was good for us, has become a gift for many young people, a help to reflect, to learn to appreciate every moment of life, even the hardest, and not to give up hope, because love always goes through history, no matter what happens, and it is carrying it.

Samad, can you introduce yourself?

My name is Samad Qayumi. I was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, where I also completed my university studies with a degree in engineering. I worked in the oil sector in Iran and then, back home, I was hired in a company in Mazar-e-Sharif that produced fertilizers and employed 3,000 people. I started as chief engineer, became deputy manager and then manager of this plant. I have always tried to do my job well and get along with everyone.

And how did you come to assume political responsibilities?

Unexpectedly, in 1982, I received a telegram from the Prime Minister inviting me to go to Kabul. It was about my appointment to be responsible for all the provinces, a post I held for four years. When problems arose in schools, health, agriculture, construction or other areas, they came to me and I looked for a solution together with the relevant minister.

And then the leap into the world of training... 

Subsequently, I was appointed Minister of Education. In this position I was mainly concerned with the construction and improvement of our country's schools. I have always believed that education is fundamental to the future of Afghanistan.

To find myself more prepared for this task I did a doctorate in pedagogy. The work was immense because the educational system was backward and also because the fundamentalists were very active and kept destroying school buildings and killing teachers.

What changed the course of your story?

In 1989, I was again appointed head of the provinces and remained in this position until 1992 when the mujhaiddin have come to power. Six million Afghans have had to leave the country. I also had to flee with my family in the space of two hours, leaving everything behind. Other members of the government had already been killed. For two months we stayed near the Pakistan border, waiting for the situation to improve. Then we left the country and, with two of our three children, arrived in Switzerland. I would have preferred to go to Germany, but at that time the traffickers who organized the escape had an easier time getting asylum seekers to Switzerland.

When you arrived in Switzerland, were you able to rebuild your lives?

Once in Switzerland, we finally felt safe. However, for six and a half years, while our asylum application was being processed, we could neither study nor work: we had to live on state aid. We wondered: ¿When will our wait be over? It was a very difficult time. In Afghanistan I had no free time, no vacations and here I suddenly found myself without any occupation... My wife in Afghanistan was a teacher. Every day she thought about her students and cried and wondered about her destiny. She also had moments of depression.

How did you manage to resist?

Living without having a job to do can lead to a loss of self-confidence, to no longer knowing if one is capable of doing anything. In those years, during the long period of inactivity to which I was forced, I read the Koran and the Bible and managed to live that time without anger and resentment thanks to faith and prayer: I have always believed that God would not have abandoned me. Reading the Gospel, I was especially fascinated by Jesus' answer to his disciples' question about the greatest commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself", "Love one another as I have loved you".

Then something improved?

After more than six years of waiting, we finally received a positive response to our asylum application and from that day on I was told that I had to find a job immediately, but it was not easy. After the first attempts to find a job, the employment agency asked me how long I wanted to continue living at the expense of others. I went to apply in many places, but when they asked me what I had done before, I always received negative answers. However, I did not stop looking, because it is important for a man to be able to do something with and for others.

After three years one day I had the opportunity to apply for a job as a doorman in the condominium where we lived. The first time I cut the grass my wife cried. Later, since the work was a lot, she also started to help me. This also changed the relationship with the neighbors: before they were very distant, they avoided us and then they started to talk and entertain us.

Later I was hired as a watchman in a historical museum of weapons and armor. But after two years, thanks to my technical skills, I became an antique armor restorer.

Do you believe that your past life and history can be a valuable gift to others?

It was in those years that I became acquainted with the International Youth Training Center (IBZ) ".J. B. Scalabrini"I began to collaborate with the Scalabrinian secular missionaries in the work of sensitization and formation of young people. I was able to present my experience and my reflections to many university students, especially from the faculties of pedagogy and law, or to groups of young people of different nationalities participating in international meetings. The topics I usually deal with are the situation in Afghanistan, the living conditions of asylum seekers and refugees, but also my personal testimony of life, the values that have guided me since my youth.

I often tell young people that it is important to have a lot of patience and to be ready to take the first step towards the other. Love makes the other grow and is the key to building peace. He who loves does everything for the other. He who does not love destroys, comes to hate and to make war. Through love it is possible to forgive, to overcome hatred and to be happy.

The authorLeticia Sánchez de León

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