What happens when a young refugee is denied access to education, work opportunities or basic human rights? He co-founds a school so he and his community can continue to learn!

Welcome to Lean In, a podcast that explores ordinary people’s extraordinary lives through honest storytelling. My guests share with me their journey of discovery, laughter, personal experiences and healing.

If you are going through a change or challenging period in life, Lean In is the space where we can surrender to the cycle together.

Out of all the shows I have done thus far, this episode is the one I will remember the most. I first watched Abdullah’s Sawari’s TedX talk (link below) and it moved me to my core.  Abdullah Sarwari’s parents are from Afghanistan but he was born in Pakistan and raised in Iran. Four and a half years ago, Abdullah and his family came to Indonesia to seek safety as refugees and, just recently, Abdullah and his family signed their resettlement papers and now call Vancouver Canada home.

Abdullah and I discuss life as a refugee, his parents life and culture in Afghanistan, his childhood in Iran and what it is like to be a refugee moving around as a family.

Abdullah is an articulate and passionate storyteller and I got a deep insight into what life is really like living as a refugee.  When he was living in Iran (around the age of 9) all of a sudden the rules for refugee children changed and he was not allowed to go to school anymore.  He would lie to his friends and tell them he was Iranian in order to fit in and try and settle in school but sadly when one of his best friends found out he was in fact, a Afghan refugee and stopped talking to him. 

This is just one of the stories we chat about.

When Abdullah’s family arrived in Indonesia, the then 16-year-old Abdullah realized as refugees, they were not allowed to work or study in Indonesia, meaning he could not complete his studies. In response to this, he and four friends co-founded an informal refugee school—the Refugee Learning Center. Over the last four years, the school has provided free education to over 300 refugee children, men, and women.  The school continues to grow and evolve to this day.

We dive into;

  • Life growing up in Pakistan and Iran as a Refugee
  • When you’re a refugee where do you belong?
  • The impact of losing his Father suddenly
  • What life is like in Indonesia as a refugee with no human rights
  • How living as a refugee impacts mental health
  • Why education is so important 
  • Starting the Refugee Learning Centre
  • How Abdullah went from “bell boy” to principal in 3 years
  • Being selected out of 300 other candidates to work with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in Indonesia 
  • Resettling in Canada
  • The stigma and negative label of “Refugee”
  • Breaking down the stereotype of what it means to be a refugee








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