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Refugee community leader builds a bridge of hope in Bangkok

Hadi Saifi has always been curious. He recalls living in Ghazni in Afghanistan as a child and being fascinated with his father’s radio.

“My father was always listening to the radio and I wondered to myself how could there be voices talking inside – how does it work?”

This led to Hadi’s interest in technology, specifically computers, but life in conflict affected Ghazni did not allow for access to a stable education.

“I could not access technology and the internet to improve my knowledge,’’ said Hadi.

After finishing high school, Hadi worked on his family’s farm, but ongoing conflict in Ghazni and threats from the Taliban led him to flee in 2016. He was 22 years old.

Today, Hadi is living as a refugee in Bangkok.

“There are many restrictions here – refugees do not have the right to work and cannot access school or university, but I never make excuses for myself, that I cannot do this or I cannot do that. I use every opportunity I can.’’

Hadi has taught himself web design and coding, using free online classes and YouTube. He is also a volunteer interpreter for local refugee support services.

In an already challenging environment, Covid-19 has hit refugee communities hard.

“It’s been very tough and challenging for me, but I thought it must be very difficult for families with children to feed, especially single parents,’’ said Hadi. ‘’I thought there must be something I could do.’’

Hadi started sharing his ideas for a fundraising campaign with his friends and networks and was encouraged to develop his ideas further.

“One friend supported and encouraged me a lot – she said it’s great that I am stepping up to do this, but thought I would need more help, and she put me in touch with an organisation in Singapore.’’

Hadi submitted a detailed project plan to aid agency Relief Singapore who came on board to provide the infrastructure for Hadi’s fundraising project.

Hadi and a group of fellow refugees established their own completely volunteer-run organisation – Bridge of Light and Hope – and began fundraising in partnership with Relief Singapore. The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) and HOST International also stepped forward to support the campaign, which has raised just over 16 thousand Singapore dollars, currently being distributed to refugee and asylum seeker families in need. Hadi is humble about his achievements, but he is already thinking about his next project.

“I am now thinking about what else we can do for refugees in Bangkok – how can we support people to be empowered – what is the best thing we can do?’’

Hadi is far from home, but he is still curious, and combined with his compassion and persistence, he’s making a positive difference in the lives of people, who like him, are living with the uncertainty of prolonged displacement.

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