Hope for the Hopeless

As World refugee day approaches, I feel this would be the best time to share one man’s story. It is a story of hope, loss, and perseverance. 


“This is a story of how the human spirit can come alive even in the darkest of hours.” – LM Ras


This is the story of Saeed Mohamed, a refugee who found not only solace and support from strangers but a newfound purpose in the kindness bestowed upon him by local individuals during his darkest hours. 


As refugees flee their homelands in search of safety and stability, they often encounter numerous challenges, navigating unfamiliar territories while grappling with the scars of their past.  


Yet, for some, their experience takes an unexpected turn, as the empathy and compassion they receive from locals ignite a fire within them—a desire to give back and offer a helping hand to those who find themselves on a similar path. 


This is where stories of hope, resilience and compassion emerge. 


It is within this tapestry that we find individuals, who after seeking refuge themselves, go on to make a profound difference in the lives of others.  


In this article, we have the privilege of delving into Saeed Mohamed’s remarkable journey. From recounting the challenges that he faced during his own displacement, to the profound impact that the local people had on his life, we will explore how his experiences have shaped his mission to uplift and empower other refugees.  


“If we lose hope, we lose our way. When we came here, South Africans gave us a home. Now (I ask myself) what can we do for them?” 


Through sharing his story and engaging in acts of compassion, Saeed embodies the transformative cycle of receiving kindness and paying it forward. 


Saeed’s Story Begins… 


Saeed fled Somalia’s civil war as a 17-year-old back in 1991. In the years since, he has built a successful career as a banker and now considers himself part of a community of Somali businesspeople who found refuge in South Africa.  


A group of these businesspeople launched a care and compassion campaign as the national lockdown began in late March, which was designed to help people who were likely to struggle under the strict stay-at-home conditions. 


Saeed is at the heart of this operation, fuelled by memories of his flight from Somalia and the kindness he experienced when he arrived in South Africa. 


“People gave us food and a place to sleep. I remember this very clearly.” 


They started by distributing masks, hand sanitiser and food parcels to residents of informal settlements in Pretoria and Johannesburg, then moved on to other parts of the country. 

Paying It Forward 

It was seeing a disabled child playing in the neighbourhood that inspired Saeed to start the campaign. Like so many families in South Africa, the child’s family relied on a daily wage from small businesses, eventually forced to close under the lockdown rules. 


After seeing the child play, Saeed went to a local store and filled up a trolley with food for the child’s family, hoping to alleviate their struggle for a while. But he knew that more was needed. He called for a meeting with his fellow business community and from there, the campaign was born. 


South Africa’s lockdown, like others around the world, has been particularly tough on people in informal work. Despite its status as one of the wealthier African nations, around 30 per cent of South Africans are out of regular work. During lockdown, it wasn’t long before the residents of the country’s townships and shack towns began to struggle as well. 


Refugees and asylum-seekers needing help to buy food and pay rent completely overwhelmed the toll-free helpline of the UN Refugee Agency in lockdown’s first week.  


By the end of May, over 3,000 people had called in, and over 95 per cent of them had lost their source of income and faced hunger or eviction. 


The government provides assistance and grants to thousands of individuals and businesses, but other groups, such as asylum-seekers, insufficiently documented refugees, irregular migrants and the homeless are excluded. 


Saeed’s campaign targets these groups and has assisted thousands of families in eight of South Africa’s nine provinces. 


His friend, Amin, arrived in South Africa as a teenager ten years ago, excelled in school and attended university, thanks to the DAFI scholarship for refugees.  


He now runs the biggest of his family’s wholesale outlets in Pretoria, which doubles as one of the five major distribution points for the campaign in the Gauteng province. 


On distribution days, Amin and his team head to low-income areas to distribute food parcels, to both South Africans and foreigners, including the homeless. 


“I think about how we survived fleeing Somalia, how we survived the war. We are lucky, and now we want to give back.” 


Across South Africa, this spirit of generosity is bubbling to the surface, with refugees and South Africans alike standing together in solidarity. 


If you would like to read about World Refugee Day, then please click here: