"KIND is My Family"

October 4, 2022

Hafiz left his home in South Asia at age 16 to flee political persecution.

He and his family were being violently attacked for not supporting the governing political party. Hafiz felt that his country was no longer safe for him. After traveling through more than 10 countries, Hafiz arrived in the United States and was eventually referred to KIND. Senior Attorney Mikaela Harris helped him gain lawful status in the United States.

Here is Hafiz’s story:

I struggled a lot to get here. I took an eight-hour bus ride from my home village to the closest big city. I flew to the Middle East and then to Brazil. The moment I arrived in Rio, I started seeing things I had never imagined. And being so young, I didn’t know America was so far away. I thought I would find safety somewhere close to Rio, but no.

I traveled by bus, car, or trunk from Brazil to Peru. I was traveling in a group with people I did not know. I felt powerless and vulnerable. As I’ve grown older and matured, I can now understand, but at that time, I didn’t have the option to say no to anything. Saying no meant seeing guns and machetes near my head, so I was always scared for my life. I always thought, “I need to get to my destination so that I can make a better life for me and my family.” In Ecuador and Colombia, I had to climb mountains. We went to Cali and Medellín and then to Turbo. We were then covered with black plastic sheets in a small boat. After 4 – 5 hours in darkness, I got off and realized we were in a jungle. I didn’t know where I was. Now that I’ve studied, I know, but back then I didn’t know anything. We walked through the jungle. The only thing I had was a small bag of cookies, but no water. Nothing. I saw some cruel things that I never expected to see.

I wasn’t happy about leaving, but I needed to make myself safe. For my family, I had to do it. I willingly did that. I needed a life. It’s never easy for a son to leave his mother. I haven’t seen my mom in almost five years now.

I kept telling myself, if I spend one more hour, maybe I’ll get closer to America and reach my destination. I was always imagining my siblings. When I left, my brother was about two years old, so thinking about him pushed me forward.

In spite of all this cruelty and torture, I did my best as the oldest brother and son. I traveled through more than 10 countries, Brazil – Peru – Ecuador – Colombia – Panama – Darien Gap– the scariest mountain and jungle in the world. It took me seven days to walk from Colombia to Panama. From Panama to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Then Honduras to Guatemala, and Guatemala to Mexico.

The whole process took me three months and 20 days. Still, when I close my eyes, I see those days. I cannot forget them, ever, those three months and 20 days.

When I first got to New York City, my cousin took me to a high school,

The first question I asked him was, “How will I pay for this school?” because where I’m from you have to pay for school. He told me I didn’t have to pay anything.

I was a good student at home. I’m pretty good at math, and the teacher who took my admissions test said, “You are so good at math, but why is your English so poor?” I told him we don’t speak English back home. My only knowledge of it came from my travels and from asking people. She thought I was Hispanic, and she put me in a Spanish class, where I learned Spanish for three months. Silly me, I thought I was learning English.

Afterward, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t miss school no matter what. I traveled two hours to get to school from where I was living and two hours back. I never missed a single class. During those two years, I had a lot of experiences and learned a lot. It made me who I am.

As a kid, growing up was a cruel experience. But it was also an intention and a promise to myself and God that I would change my life. I will change my tomorrow so that my siblings and I can have a better future. That’s what motivated me to move forward.

During that time, I met one of the most important and best people in my life — my KIND lawyer – Mikaela Harris.

I came with my cousin to meet Mikaela for the first time. I remember thinking I’m going to tell her about all I want to do so she can understand. As I started coming to KIND, Mikaela helped me cope with what had happened to me. She also helped me get my work permit which was really important to me so I could help my family back home. They were suffering a lot. It was one of the best days of my life. I was the happiest person in the world. I ran a mile to the KIND office because I was so excited.

Mikaela helped me with a lot of things that I cannot even list them all. I’m here today because of her. Mikaela never left me. She never gave up on me, and I never gave up on myself. Most important of all, I can stay in the United States legally thanks to Mikaela. That’s why I thank her a lot. I always pray for her. In my culture, you should never thank a person in front of them [Laughing.] Mikaela gave me my life, my everything. I got my first job as cashier at a fast-food restaurant and was promoted to shift leader. And I was still studying. I also got another part-time job. Whatever I could have done to earn money, I did. I did it for my family. I started to pay for everything they needed. Now my siblings are going to school. Even my youngest brother is now in school. It’s still not safe for them, but they are in a better place at least. They have food on their table every day.

I feel like the happiest brother in the world when I see my brother because he has the life I dreamed about.

I graduated high school during the pandemic. As I said before, I always promised myself I’d do better in life and go to school every day. I earned my high school diploma. I never missed a single day in two years.

I am now going to community college and studying respiratory care. I never knew what a college looked like before; it was such an experience for me. On the first day, I took three math classes. Why three math classes? One was for psychology, one for English, and one was for respiratory therapy. That’s how I am. I’m always learning something new. (laughing). You can’t even imagine how many classes I take. On Sundays, I take three classes, but I take more than seven because the school lets me attend any class during my break time.

As a 20-year-old, I see knowledge everywhere in the world. You just need to take it in. Now is the time to learn.

I tell myself to remove the negative knowledge and retrieve the positive knowledge.

Everyone sends knowledge. If you see a local vendor on the street, you can learn a lot from him. He has a business. This is how I learn. I ask people. We learn from our mistakes. I ask people, “What are the mistakes you have made to get to where you are?”

Currently, I work mostly in IT, as a computer technician. After my high school graduation, I got a job where they promoted me and asked if I wanted to learn about IT. My boss got me into a training program. This will give me more opportunities. So, I’m always learning! It’s always about learning.

There is one thing I always tell myself: whatever spirit you give to the world, the world will pay you back. I have worked hard and been honest with myself to get to where I am. I’ve been through things, but they do not affect me since this is the process I had to go through to be here. And this world will pay me back. God has a reason for everything.

Thanks to God. Thanks to Mikaela. I always text her when I have a small or big thing. She always replies. It’s like a family, to be in KIND. Why do I say KIND is my family? Because when I have a problem or anything and I reach out to them, they get back to me right away. Mikaela replies to me, and she talks to me. When you talk to your family, it makes you feel good; I have an umbrella over me – KIND. This makes me want to help people and be a better person.

Whenever I go to a meeting at KIND, I always come early because it’s like I’m coming home because this is where I got everything. I have an umbrella over me - KIND

I just want to give back to the world what I got right now.

I always try my best to help people who have been through similar situations as me. I want to become a respiratory therapist, and I want to help the community. I have donated food to my community during Ramadan. All those things that I can do in my world. I want to change my tomorrow because of what I have been through. I don’t want my kids to go through what I went through. When I have kids, I want to be a good father so they can say, “I am proud of my father.”

I experienced things I never would have expected as a 16 – 17-year-old, but it has given me the strength to face my problems.

I’m safe here. I don’t have to worry if I’ll wake up tomorrow.

And the most important thing is my studies. I can live without food, but I cannot live without my studies. This is the most important thing in life, learning every day.

America is one of the best countries in the world, New York City, too. It’s truly a city that never sleeps. It and KIND have given me the life I always wanted.