For the longest time, I thought it was normal for your dad to hit you. It wasn’t until I saw how kind and playful other dads were that I realised mine was just different.
He hurt me a lot – but not just physically, emotionally too. Like the day he suddenly announced we were all moving to Iraq, his home country. None of us had a choice – not me, my mum or my younger sisters. It didn’t matter that we were born and raised in Britain and didn’t want to move.
When we got there, my dad had no reason to hold back on the beatings. I mean, it’s not like the police there would do anything about it. One night, he punched me until I curled up on the floor and cried. My only hope was that he’d tired himself out and be too exhausted to carry on.
I lived like that for two years until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to leave or I’d die in Iraq at the hands of my dad.
I left without my passport and flew on an emergency travel document so no one would get suspicious. When I arrived in the UK, reality hit me almost as hard as my dad used to. I had nothing except the clothes on my back.
No money, no food, no family and no home.
I didn’t have any family or friends that were prepared to help me so, at 18 years old, I was living in a hostel for the homeless.
Without ID, I couldn’t do anything. I needed money, but I couldn’t get a job without a passport. And because I had no money, I couldn’t order a passport. I was stuck in a cycle of helplessness, feeling frustrated because even though I was ready and willing to help myself, I couldn’t.
I applied to the National Zakat Foundation for financial support so I could order a new passport and change my situation. I thought my Programme Officer would find my request trivial, especially when there were people who needed food and a roof over their head.
But NZF understood the urgency of my situation. They knew I’d be stuck in the hostel for years if I couldn’t pay for my ID, find a job and get back into education. They saw that I was still a young man with my entire life ahead of me, and that their decision could either get me back on track or leave me stuck in poverty.
NZF agreed to pay for my new passport, and within three weeks I was holding the shiny red book in my hands, overwhelmed by all the opportunities that had opened up to me.
Once I had my passport, I was able to enrol on a college course. My dad had taken us back to Iraq the year I was supposed to start my A-levels, so I never got to do them.
Now, I’m a college student studying English, history and politics, and in eight months’ time, I’ll have applied to five universities.
I’m out of the hostel and I’m living alone in a small flat. It gets lonely sometimes, but I’ve made some friends and I feel much safer now that I’m not sharing my living space with strangers.
If you’d told me a year ago where I’d be now, I wouldn’t have believed you. And the truth is, I wouldn’t be here if NZF hadn’t given me £85 for a new passport. It wasn’t a huge amount but it changed my life completely.
The National Zakat Foundation uses Zakat to support individuals in a transformative way, so they can be self-sufficient. Stay up-to-date with all our latest insights, stories, research and news – subscribe here for our monthly newsletter.
National Zakat Hotline: 03333 123 123 (Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm, local rates) or apply online apply.nzf.org.uk
This post is based on a true story.