Little Man


by Rick Perera, Media
& Communications Officer

Just 12 years old, he carries the weight of the world on his
narrow shoulders. The eldest of five
children of a widowed mother, Sajjad Ahmad feels responsible for his family. It”s not easy being the man of the house at
such a young age.

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Sajjad reminds me of myself at 12: small for his age, with a mop of brown hair,
ruddy cheeks, and a turned-up nose. But
the resemblance stops there. At a time
when my life was filled with friendships, games, and learning, his are long
days of idleness and worry.

His childhood was cut short a month ago, when his family
fled their home in Pakistan”s
SwatValley. “There was fighting on every side, and we
didn”t know where would be targeted next,’ Sajjad recalls, standing in a schoolyard
in worn sandals and a dirty salwar
the traditional attire. “We
left, and were searching for a place to stay. We thought this would be a good place, safe at night.’

The Ahmad family is crowded, along with 80 other newly
homeless people, into this three-room schoolhouse in the
village of
a five-day journey from home across forbidding mountains. They sleep on a mat on the porch, trying to
escape the stifling heat. Food is short
– a little rice, some flat roti
bread, whatever their generous but poor hosts can spare. There”s nothing for the children to do but
sit and brood about what they”ve left behind, about an uncertain future.

There”s sadness in Sajjad”s eyes, but tenderness too, as he
drapes his arms around his little sister Hadiya, 8, and their two-year-old
brother Waqas. “I miss my classmates and
friends,’ says the third-grader.

What would you like to do when you grow up, I ask –
imagining that, with typical youthful optimism, he might have big dreams: doctor, engineer, pilot.

Instead, Sajjad sees a future of duty and devotion.

“I want to take care of my mother,’ he says. “We want peace.’

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