Cook. Brother. Mentor.
“It wasn’t safe and we had to leave.”
Yaquob, 16 years old: “Back in Ghazni, Afghanistan, my younger brothers Naeem and Yazdan would bring lunch for me to school and we all would sit and eat. The two of them were not going to school since they were born deaf and mute. So they would take our sheep out for grazing in the mountains.
Now, here in Pakistan, we are on our own. Naeem, the second eldest, cooks for us. He will become a great chef one day, because he loves cooking and he is so good at it. He even tries to teach me how to make Afghani bread. Every morning, we make three breads for breakfast – one by me and two by Naeem. He always laughs at me because my bread is never round. I asked him to teach me how to cook biryani instead, which I guess is easier than making a round bread.
He watches all the cooking shows on TV and then tries out the recipes. We don’t have all the ingredients shown on TV, so Naeem creates his own dishes. I think mutton curry and plain white rice is his signature dish, it is so delicious.
My dream is to enrol him at a cooking school; he doesn’t need to hear or talk, all he needs is to observe and he is very intelligent. He picks up things quickly. Maybe one day when we have a house of our own and have enough money, we will have our own restaurant.”
Yaquob, in the middle, with Naseem (right) and Yazdan (left) at a UNHCR’s safe accommodation. The brothers cook and eat together every day. (c) UNHCR/ D.A.Khan/2015
Afghan bread is not easy to make. It is not only about the right ingredients but also applying the right techniques. Naeem (left) learnt it from another kind heartened refugee woman and is now teaching his brothers. (c) UNHCR/ D.A. Khan/2015
It's breakfast time at the UNHCR safe accommodation. The brothers have divided daily chores among themselves. Naeem made omeette which they eat with the leftover bread from previous night and Yaquob helps with green tea. (c) UNHCR/ D.A. Khan/2015
Naeem is multi-talented: he is not only a great cook but also a tailor. His newest hobby is recycling waste material. He made these flip-flops using milk packaging. (c) UNHCR/ D.A. Khan/2015
Yaquob (left), Yazdan and Naeem (right) pose for a family photo with Yazdan’s latest art piece. 11 year old Yazdan loves painting and making models. His favourites to draw are houses with trees and flowers around them. (c) UNHCR/ D.A. Khan/2015
Sixteen-year-old Muhammad Yaquob, 14-year-old Naeem, and 11-year-old Yazdan were born in Afghanistan. In 2010, after the family was threatened by the Taliban, they fled to Pakistan and took refuge in Quetta. Their mother had died during childbirth before their arrival in Pakistan. In 2012, their father took a perilous journey by boat to Australia. Sadly, their father drowned, along with 94 others when their boat capsized near Christmas Island.
The boys’ case was reported to UNHCR and they were brought to Islamabad. This is where Naeem developed his love for cooking. The three brothers are looking forward to the day when they will realize their dreams.
Refugees. Ordinary people living through extraordinary times. Share their stories.
Pakistan hosts almost 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees – still the largest protracted refugee population globally. As refugee orphans who are also underage, Yaquob and his brothers are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. UNHCR has found them safe accommodation and will help them to resettle in a third country so they can start a new life in safety. In 2014, UNHCR helped 2,000 Afghans to resettle abroad.