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Growing Up in the Face of War

I am happy to have people to share my story, for my house, I am so thankful, I don’t know how to say it, for all the staff of NSC.

I was 9 years old when my family went to Pakistan. It was wartime in Afghanistan. My father, Liwal, was trained by the US Military and worked for the Special Forces. My father wanted his daughters to go to school, to study. 

Because of his beliefs and his affiliation with the US, some militia groups were harassing and threatening our family. And so, we left our home. We stayed in Pakistan for seven years, until 2003. When we returned, my father had lost his position with the Special Forces and worked on the street, selling vegetables and fruit. 

After about one year, my father was solicited by the Americans and returned to the military. I as 16 years old at the time. One day, we found militia in our home. We had lost everything, our home, our property. They said to us “This is not your house.” We went to the police, the law found in our favor, but the militia refused to leave. My father began organizing the community against the militia, to try to get them out. But instead, the militia killed my father. He was fifty-five years old. My mother went to the police, seeking justice for the death of her husband, my father. She felt safe in doing so; she was hopeful because of the democracy in Afghanistan, because NATO was there. She thought we were safe to stay. 

What happened instead was that the militia sought out my oldest sister Fraba. She was 25 years old. Despite their threats, my mother refused to consent to a marriage between Fraba and a member of the militia.  As a result of the refusal, I was kidnapped. It was about three or four days…I don’t know where I was but I do know that it was a dark place…I cried, I can’t see anybody, I can’t eat. They hurt me…I still have a big scar across my back…  I was finally returned to my mother because of Fraba, who agreed to go with the militia in exchange for my safe return. When I saw my mother, she said to me “They took Fraba.” We didn’t know what to do, how to pass the time, how to find solace in sleep because Fraba was missing--she was like my second mother.

Again, my mother went to the police. When they refused to help, my mother persisted and went to a bigger police station. They agreed to take her case and told her “Don’t be scared. We will come, and we will do something about your daughter.” It was sometime around 2:00 in the morning when I heard two big sounds—I will always remember that sound. Next I see that smoke, fire is coming out of the windows. I hear my youngest sister Nazila say “Please help us.” I couldn’t see anybody. I heard people, I heard people saying “bring water.” The next thing I know is that I was in a man’s house or a clinic, my face is burned, my hands are burned. There is too much swelling, so much. He cut my hand, and water came pouring out. I asked about Nazila, and he says “I’m so sorry, we can’t help her, she’s gone.” 

This man, Dr. Grulajan, encouraged my mother to return to Pakistan, and we did. For the first two or three years we were too afraid to leave the house, scared that someone would recognize us, that the militia would come. My mom was sick, and crying in grief for our family, and I had to stay home to care for her too. 

In 2012, we applied for refugee status and on March 27, 2014 we arrived in Philadelphia. As soon as I learned that we would come to America, I began studying English. Because of UNHCR we have many doors open for us. I am happy to have people to share my story, for my house, I am so thankful, I don’t know how to say it, for all the staff of NSC.


Roman and his mother's story was featured in January 2016 in Milestones, a publication of Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (see pages 4-5).