Shahzaib, 17 years old, is not an orphan, he has parents and a family. So why do we call him « Tom Sawyer »? Because just like this famous fictional hero, Shahzaib is a true modern-day adventurer. He stopped at nothing to travel to France and, as you will see, his story is a moving one. The Toombow Kids team was able to speak with him in English to share his extraordinary journey.
Shahzaib was born in Mandi Bahauddin, a city located in the Punjab province of Pakistan. His childhood was marked by poverty and the lack of technological means that deprived him of better access to knowledge. However, he considers himself lucky to have been able to go to school, even if the conditions were harsh. Teachers often punished him and his friends with sticks and forced them to keep their balance in degrading positions, under pain of punishment.
Unfortunately, this was far from the hardest thing Shahzaib had to endure. At the origin of the biggest conflicts, differences around religion. His parents each believe in a different sects of Islam, his father being Sunni and his mother Shiite. Unfortunately, for her paternal uncle, it was always inconceivable that a Shiite woman could join the family. Shahzaib recalls his childhood with emotion:
« My uncle really hated my mother and he also hated me as I was her son. He was a corrupt policeman and he often threatened us. One day he came to our house in a rage. He broke my arm and burned my hands with his lighter. »
After his uncle and colleagues seized their home, Shahzaib and his parents went on the run. Their goal: to reach France. To avoid detection, they had to split up and each left the city hidden in the trunk of a car. Shahzaib left Pakistan at the age of 13 and a half, with Iran as his first destination. He would later learn that his parents were less fortunate than him and were stopped at the border. For this journey, the young boy made the entire crossing on foot with a group of about a hundred people, all under extreme conditions; scorching heat during the day, freezing temperatures at night, not to mention the dangers of nature. Shahzaib recalls several of his camarades who died from snake bites.
Once in Iran, he traveled by car to Turkey before walking to Greece. There, he broke his arm in a fall in the mountains that could have been much worse. Once he recovered, he continued to walk tirelessly through Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Italy. He spent days in a row without food, endured wild boar attacks, was under stress by the fear of being arrested at any moment by border guards, and had to deal with the lack of security in the refugee camps. So Shahzaib had to face many ordeals before arriving in France at age 17. Now, he dreams of only one thing:
« I want my family to come here even if it is difficult. I am in contact with them but they have to be careful and change cities often so they don’t get caught. »
Currently, Shahzaib is staying in a hotel but his situation is not stable. He is trying to learn French in order to find an employer who will accept him. He has no backup plan if the hotel were to evict him. His struggle is far from over, but he has the will to live. Toombow Kids wishes with all its heart that Shazhaib will one day get the life he has always dreamed of !