Refugee teenager gets once-in-a lifetime experience as a volunteer in Asian Games 2018

It never crossed Jafar’s mind that he would have the opportunity to be part of one of the biggest international multi sports events in the world but it has happened. The Afghan teenager was selected to volunteer at the Asian Games this year by a special Asian Games committee. As a volunteer for the event, which continues through 2 September, he has met athletes from across Asia, including Afghan taekwondo legend Rohollah Nikpai.

Jafar (far left) poses with Indonesian volunteers at Asian Games. ©Courtesy of Jafar

Jafar proudly showed off his badge and uniform as a volunteer for Asian Games. Being selected was like a dream come true for the 16-year-old refugee. It all started a month ago when Jafar’s friend told him about the volunteering opportunity. “My friend told me that they needed volunteers who can speak Bahasa Indonesia and English,” Jafar said, recalling the moment.

To be chosen among many applicants, Jafar, who has been living in Indonesia for two years, had to go through language tests. The Asian Games committee interviewed him in Bahasa Indonesia and English to test his language skills. The interviewers were impressed with Jafar’s Bahasa Indonesian skills. “They thought that I am an Indonesian. I told them I am not. They were surprised, ‘Really? Maybe you were born here? Are you half-Indonesian? Where did you learn Bahasa Indonesia?’” said Jafar in fluent Indonesian.

Did the committee members know that he is a refugee? “Yes, they are okay with that. I feel appreciated since they didn’t see my refugee status as an issue,” Jafar said. The committee members said “It’s okay. No problem. As long as you can help and volunteer for us. No matter where you are from.”

Good news. Jafar got accepted as a volunteer in the event’s transportation division a week later. Along with more than 100 volunteers, he is assigned through the end of the Games to escort athletes to and from their accommodations to various sporting venues across the capital, and help keep track of  their attendance at events with his coordinator.

Jafar was overjoyed at the chance of attending the opening event, experiencing the pride and excitement of being there together with thousands of spectators, dignitaries and athletes. “President Joko Widodo was there. So many important people were there. It was unreal,” Jafar said, beaming with happiness. This year’s Asian Games is co-hosted in two cities – Jakarta and Palembang. A total of 46 countries are participating in the quadrennial sporting event, which features 462 events in 40 disciplines.

So far it has been an unforgettable experience for Jafar.  He gets to meet many athletes from Asia, is learning how the Asian Games is organized, and is building friendships with Indonesian volunteers. “I know many people from different countries and other volunteers. They are really good to me. I feel more independent,” said Jafar, who has assisted athletes from Republic of Korea, Japan, China, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Iran, Afghanistan and Mongolia, among others.

Jafar was star struck when he met Rohollah Nikpai, a former Afghan taekwondo athlete and two-time Olympic bronze medalist. “When I saw him, I was like, ‘Wow!’ He’s very famous in Afghanistan. He’s now like a coach,” Jafar said. “My shift was already over at that time. When I was there, he wanted to call his [Indonesian] driver, but the driver didn’t pick up the phone,” he went on. Jafar later offered his help to call and speak to the driver.

Rohollah was surprised when he found out that Jafar was from Afghanistan and could speak Indonesian fluently. “It was good to see him. I was so happy because he’s a famous athlete from my country. He asked about me, what I was doing here. I told him that I’m a refugee,” Jafar said. During their small talk, Jafar got an advice from Rohollah. “Keep studying. Keep your spirit high,” Jafar recalled the athlete’s advice, while showing his photo with Rohollah.

“I was really happy to meet the Afghan team because they came from Afghanistan and wanted to give something for Afghanistan. They were competing to win medals and have their flag raised in another country. I feel proud. I told them that I was here for them, that I prayed for them to be the best and to be successful,” Jafar said. Besides Rohollah, Jafar, who is into futsal, swimming and running, also got to meet Chinese basketball legend and former the National Basketball Association’s player Yao Ming.

Jafar felt honored to get to meet Afghan taekwondo hero Rohollah Nikpai. ©Courtesy of Jafar

The experience has inspired Jafar to become an athlete. “While escorting the athletes, I kept wondering when I could be an athlete, participate in competitions like Asian Games and win medals for my country,” Jafar said, hoping that he could go back to his home country someday when it is safe for him to return there.

He is pumped up to practice futsal so he can realize his dream of becoming a good football player just like his favorite players Lionel Messi, Neymar and David Beckham. Jafar also expressed his interest to do more volunteer work in the future. “I will try my best to volunteer. I’ll be here to help.”

Jafar, clad in Asiad volunteer uniform, shows his ball juggling skills. ©UNHCR/T. Kurniasari

Jafar poses with Asiad volunteers and officials. ©Courtesy of Jafar