Najib Alhaj Ali never saw himself as an athlete. But after his injury, he never saw himself as anything at all.
For the past two years, the 13-year-old Syrian boy has been using a wheelchair. Coming to terms with his injury and life in exile had exhausted his confidence in the future.
Now, however, as a refugee in Greece, Najib has made a discovery that is helping him to imagine himself in a new light – as a Paralympic athlete.
Two years ago, a bomb attack on his home in the city of Homs left the slight, wisp of a boy paralysed from the waist down. In spite his injury, Najib and his family made their escape from the fighting all around them, and braved a Mediterranean Sea crossing on rubber dinghy from Turkey to Greece. They were eventually granted asylum there in 2016.
Last November Najib signed up for a pilot Paralympic education project managed by the Hellenic Paralympic Committee, the Agitos Foundation and UNHCR. The project is helping to empower refugees with disabilities – particularly the young – by giving them the chance to learn sports train and even compete at the national Paralympic level. For Najib, the experience has been transformative, giving him a reason to strive. Moreover, it has given the boy, now only 13, the means to once again have something to look forward to in the future.