Ra’ed Khan is not just any 30 under 30, he’s someone who’s won our hearts and minds and become synonymous with real action. Taking matters into his own hands, Ra’ed has done what big government have failed to do during this tragic refugee crisis by giving a voice to the voiceless and aid to the unaided. Read Ra’ed’s story, in his own words, as he tells us what brought him to a Road To Freedom and the start of a non-profit organisation that provides aid to refugees feeling war-torn countries.
“When the history books are written depicting one of the worst refugee crisis known to man, let it be known that when the government closed their borders, the everyday person opened their hearts”
I believe as humans there will always be that one moment in life we experience that affects us. It could be someone we know or a complete stranger, a singular moment so powerful it will change our lives forever. As a young boy I remember seeing my grandfathers, both successful business men after leaving their homes in India and moving to Pakistan creating a life for themselves and their family. I have great memories of my grandfather for being kind and selfless, as the years went by my dad continued his legacy and taught me and my sisters everyday that nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life that could be of use to others. I didn’t know what that really meant until that one moment happened that truly changed my life.
That moment was on September 2nd 2015. I sat at my desk at work as I do everyday and blinked tears seeing an image of a three-year-old child’s dead body laying on a beach in Turkey. His name was Alan Kurdi, he was from Kobani in Syria, and after moving around in different parts of Syria to escape ISIS and the civil war, his family paid smugglers to board a plastic inflatable boat to head to Europe. After the boat capsized, it was then Alan lost his life alongside his five-year-old brother Ghalib and his mother Rehanna. His father held on to his body for as long as he could, screaming ‘I do not want you to die’ until the waves took him. This beautiful boy will never know that in his three short years of life he would inspire not only me but thousands of others to wake up and see what’s happening on the other side of the world. It was this moment that made me realise yes I have the most amazing friends, a beautiful family and a blossoming career but that all means absolutely nothing if I am unable to help others in need and make a difference.
Desperate to help, I spoke to my sister and brother-in-law and said we have to somehow help these people, we decided to go to the Calais Jungle refugee camp in France for a day after raising a £1000 which we used to purchase aid. At first arriving in the camp in our van, it was very surreal to see grown men and women living in absolute filth desperately pleading with us to give them bread and water, despite our efforts of handing out hundreds and hundreds of parcels we held back tears watching the last parcel of aid being handed and seeing so many sad eyes going back to their make shift tents without any food as we simply didn’t have enough for them all.
As soon as I got back to London, suddenly everything seemed so different to me. I experienced an emotional rollacoaster and somehow the small things like missing the train or not being able to make an event that all my friends were going to just did not matter anymore. I finally realised what my dad meant about being selfless. Spending just one day in Calais meeting people fleeing war, famine and rape – I decided I wanted continue to help these people until the day I die.
Me and my friend Lena then decided to then head further out to help those fleeing Syria and are stuck at the borders in Serbia. Upon our arrival at night, one of the charity workers we were working with stopped the car in pitch black as a woman banged on the window screaming to help her, as we got out she threw her 1-year-old baby into my arms begging me to please hold her child as her own legs would not allow her to walk anymore. The baby had barely any clothes and a slightly blue complexion from the freezing cold.
Whilst his lips shivered as he held on closely to me for warmth, after throwing a blanket over him we knew that we had to keep this baby alive and however long the walk would be to the Croatian border, we’ll stay with them. That weekend 5000 refugees from Syria arrived each day, majority of them children, some with parents, some unaccompanied. Having no sleep and no food ourselves it was seeing their smiles of how happy they were to receive basic aid, most insisting especially the children to give us hugs after receiving the aid that kept us going.
After Serbia and having spent much time with the refugees, I realised this crisis is not something that is just going to be fixed, these people aren’t leaving their homes because they want a new job. They were doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants, teachers, students, they had wives, husbands, children, boy friends, girlfriends already. They lived incredible lives before the war but they had no choice but to leave.
One thing I have never understood and often wonder is why have we been so lucky enough to have this path in life, and across the world there is a young man just like me, with the same abilities, the same desires, the same work ethic with the same love for his family, only… he sits in a refugee camp, and has no voice. He worries if his mother or sister will have food to eat today and if they will ever be allowed to go home. I just don’t know why this is my life and that is his.
It was this question, these unheard voices and inspired by their strength that Road To Freedom was born
It was this question, these unheard voices and inspired by their strength that Road To Freedom was born with like minded people who wanted to help innocent people suffering. After raising money before each trip we headed to the Greek Island of Samos. After Samos, we head to Dunkirk in France. After Dunkirk we head to Macedonia. And then Idomeni most recently. Helping hundreds of families with immediate aid of food, hygiene and clothing. Many of the refugees explaining they are simply surviving on donations and aid from volunteers. Simple things like an apple to a toothbrush or a jacket is received with such gratitude to those in desperate need.
And for that reason, we will continue to fundraise with your help and head out to these refugee camps to make their lives a tad easier and God willing, keep them alive.
In addition to several trips planned for the year, the future plans of Road To Freedom are to extend our missions to the refugee camps where hundreds of thousands of people are need of aid across Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. We also are in works to set up a resettlement programme to work alongside refugees who have found safety in the UK and help build their new lives together through finding employment, education and helping them adapt to the local culture.
We will continue to raise awareness in the international worlds of the plight of refugees and how these people are affected by the war and with God’s grace and the support of every single one of you standing in this room we will hopefully start putting these into place by the end of this year.
I would like to let you know, the official Road To Freedom website is now live and I am also heading to Idomeni (Greece) in two weeks where 14,000+ refugees are stuck at the borders needing urgent aid. The donation link is here if you would like to donate which in return will help us buy food, hygiene and clothing items for them: Thank you for your support again, this will truly stay in my heart forever.
The Road To Freedom launch night was supported by Emily Rawson, Ian, Sean and the Supa Dupa Fly, and took place at the Ace Hotel, hosted by Julie Adenuga, with a performance by Kojey Radical. Credits to Courtney Francis for the amazing photography, Kadir for the videography. Kate for the lovely hand baked cupcakes. Akin for the website. Shorty Bless for the music.
The Road to Freedom team includes Liz and all the other volunteers who have believed in the missions and head out with us: Jamie, Anni, Lena, Fraaz and Hussain. My sisters Elz and Tania – you two are the reason this night and Road To Freedom exists. Blood wouldn’t make us any closer. You inspire me more than you will ever know. Your passion, your positivity, your strength is so admirable I cannot express in words. Only the three of us will know the things we have seen out there and I could never imagine doing this charity without you both. Thank you for showing me what humanity is about.
A slew of donations have included proceedings from Emily’s night which saw £2000 being raised for refugees. Grime Aid last year raised £2500 with the support of Caroline and Elle, and the team Patrick and Mercedes.
Thank you to every person who has donated. Thank you for being so kind. And so gracious. I am so overwhelmed. This truly means so much to me. From the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul, thank you.