S – The story of a 15 year old refugee

I told S he had a cool necklace and he’d smiled sheepishly, and in that moment, I saw a glimpse of every other teenage boy I know. S followed me around, and I fussed over him, like he’s one of my students back in school. We sat down for a chat and he shared how he was one of 6 children, and he’d taken the boat alone because he “couldn’t work, study or do anything anyway”. The last time he was allowed to go to school was in 2012. His intention was to get to Malaysia to work so that he can send money home, but now that he’s not able to, he’s been taking the classes seriously. Despite having food and shelter in the camp, he constantly worries about his parents and siblings. I asked him what was he looking forward to do when he eventually gets resettled, and he’d said, “Anything. Any work that can give me money. So that I can send home.” He tells me of the friends he’d made on the boat and in the camp and then proudly showed me his room. “Sorry, it’s so messy.” I laughed when he said it. Oh, boy.


S (in blue) and I had a connection immediately when we first met, and he stuck with me throughout, helping me with the younger children as well as gathering the other boys. S is 15, and R, who’s 17, is his best friend.

They’re both alone, after leaving their families 1.5 years ago to get onto the boat heading to a promised better life, and found comfort and confidence in each other through their trials. Together, they showed me their bedroom with pride. Originally housing 12 boys, they’re the last 2 left.


This is a boy who took a boat alone at 13 and then had to take on the label of a refugee for the past 1.5 years. This is a boy who could have very well been born in another place and circumstance, but found himself in a difficult position from the day he was born. This is a boy who could have been one of my students.

My heart aches thinking of him now, and I remember his eyes as he saw me off as the car left. When he realised that we were leaving, he kept near me as I hugged the other women and children, and when I turned to say goodbye to him, I couldn’t say anything. There were so many unspoken words between us. I wanted to give him so many things – everything I’d give my brothers and students – but I couldn’t. His eyes spoke of requests, of dreams, of nightmares. I could only manage a “Please take care of yourself and do the best in everything you do” and got into the car before I started crying.

You see, what we have is truly, way too often, a stroke of luck. What we do with what we have though, is a choice and a responsibility.

I may not be able to directly help S again henceforth except for keeping him in my prayers, but I can choose to give voice to them, to show how they’re just humans like you and me. I can tell the stories of individuals and highlight the suffering, separation and dislocation they feel. Only through such stories can we properly begin to understand what it is to be a refugee. Only through such stories can we start to have empathy.

We can always choose to do something good for others with what we have.

I’ll be sharing more stories from my time on Project Hearts to Hands SG. Stay with me as we go through on this journey together.

2 thoughts on “S – The story of a 15 year old refugee

  1. Pingback: Meet Atikah of 'The Tudung Traveller', the hijabi globetrotter smashing stereotypes • Muslyfe

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