“I was born and raised up in Bourj El Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon - a one kilometer square camp with broken roads, no regular electricity or water, and crammed with human beings.
The houses were so close to each other that people had no choice but be bound together. We became like one big family. I felt trapped and I was determined to leave this open jail. My parents taught me that the only way to get out of this misery was through education and hard work.
Our luck was that many volunteers from Canada, US, Australia, and Europe came to teach us English. They were our window to the world. So with their help, I learnt English, acted in plays and read books. I always dreamt of studying abroad to become a ‘normal human being’ as I called it back then.
Then, an internet cafe opened in the camp. There were two or three computers, and a very slow internet connection. Thanks to the many Canadian volunteers coming into the camp, Canada became my dream. I would spend hours looking at universities over there and applying. I eventually found out that York University in Toronto offered scholarships for foreign students. I applied, got accepted and was granted the Global Leader of Tomorrow Award because my grades in school were good enough and I had a strong community involvement.
When I arrived in Canada, I almost felt Canadian. I could finally see and smell freedom. I felt free, I felt... normal. After a few years I could finally apply for Canadian citizenship. And so I became Canadian. At the citizenship ceremony, the judge told me: “Now you have a country. Now you have a home.” I started to cry. Holding the passport made me feel that the world would be mine from now on; I could go anywhere I wanted, even to my homeland, Palestine.
My visa applications would not be rejected anymore, I could travel!
I hope my experience means that refugees can say: “I can do it too.” I want every stateless person not to give up on their dreams because it is my dreams and determination that saved me from a hard life. Hopefully, this Award can also inspire countries and people worldwide not to simply think of refugees as victims that need charity but rather as people who would contribute when given the chance.
People can’t imagine what it is to be a refugee or to be stateless. Refugees are ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances; give them a chance and they will excel and become someone. Refugees are dreamers determined to make something out of nothing, and our world can truly benefit from this energy. "
Read the rest of Chaker's story here.