3-minute read

A Friend Who Happens to Be a Refugee

After watching a video from Our Better World about Hasan, a Syrian refugee in Malaysia, Farhana got in touch with him, and they launched the Al-Hasan Volunteer Network.


Nur Farhana Zolkifli

Farhana is Co-Founder of Al-Hasan Volunteer Network, and Founder of Wanderer International who manages The Good Bake, a social enterprise that empowers refugee mothers to earn an income through baking.

It all started with a video by Our Better World (OBW).

I always knew that every chance I get to travel solo, I want it to be purposeful. I want to be able to visit a country and get to know its beautiful places and people. More importantly, I want to make sure my time there would be well spent volunteering.

In early 2017, I had begun planning where to head to next but I couldn’t put a finger on any particular country and organisation.

Then, I chanced upon OBW’s video of Hasan. I was so impressed and blown away by the then 17-year-old. The exact words that came to my mind were “I have to meet this boy”.

I found Hasan on Facebook and contacted him. All in the matter of a month, I began a clothing donation drive in Singapore, all of which were to be contributed to a free market event for refugees that Hasan had spoken to me about. Soon after, I found myself in KL with three huge boxes of clothes for the event.

That was our first event together - a free market event for refugees. A project by a then 17-year old Syrian and 20-year-old Singaporean who had never met each other in person. All under a period of one month.

I spent two weeks in Kuala Lumpur, volunteering alongside Hasan. I assisted him through some of the programs he was conducting and I helped at a few events. It didn’t take me long to find out that Hasan was doing all these amazing things for his community all by himself. He didn’t have a team or anyone helping him.

Photo credit: Han Hanan

Truly, it was a pleasure to be alongside Hasan and assist him with all that had to be done. I saw in him the burning passion to lift his community, to be the best of contributors even if nobody noticed.

Over the two weeks Hasan and I bonded over the same vision of wanting to help others and in making the world a better place. He began sharing with me his struggles, aspirations, hopes and dreams. It was like meeting a long-lost sibling! There were just so many things to share with each other.

I left KL after two weeks but my heart never did. We planned to start a ground up/volunteer network and we pursued the idea even though we were countries apart. Bit by bit, we laid the foundations of Al-Hasan Volunteer Network and worked on various ideas and programs together.

We are basically a two-man team. Hasan as Founder, was the brawn of the team. He was the one on the ground and conducted the activities/programs. As Co-Founder, I was more of the brain, doing the necessary planning and branding for AHVN and our activities.

Little did I know I’d find myself coming back to KL multiple times since then. That’s when I knew that when your heart is at the right place, despite being far away, the world will conspire to make things work.

It has been two years since we began AHVN and we’ve grown! We have a committee now. What first began with a Syrian refugee, then a Singaporean, is now a volunteer network we can be proud of. It truly shows that youths - no matter who they are and where they are from - can make a difference.

Hasan has honestly taught me so much. Sometimes you go meet people thinking that you might bring change to them, but it was Hasan who changed me. He taught me and still teaches me until today to always do things sincerely, to never give up when times are hard, and to always be grateful.

To anyone who wishes to have a refugee as a friend, my advice is go ahead and make friends with them! I don’t see Hasan as a refugee. I see him as a friend who happens to be a refugee. Refugee or not, we’re all humans after all. I’ve learnt so much about the refugee situation and it has honestly made me a more well-informed person on the matter. I’ve made so many friends who are refugees and I learn so much from them too. Friendship should not be bound by terms or labels. And especially with the right values, the most unexpected friends can blossom to become family too.

It is a privilege to have Hasan as a friend and brother.

Do you have a friend like that too? Someone who is from a community vastly different from yours? Someone whose life experiences you can't always relate to? How did that friendship grow into one that serves others? Write a blog about it! Click here to pitch your story.

You can join Hasan and Farhana in bringing light and joy to refugees in Malaysia through Al-Hasan Volunteer Network

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