A file image of Father Michael Kelly SJ. (ucanews.com photo)
Email is a wonderful means of communication. Though not as good as meeting someone face to face, it still allows immediate and at times quite intimate contact between people living on opposite sides of the planet. Or it can connect you to some you don’t know who just lives around the corner.
Recently, I connected with an 18-year-old Pakistani lad whom I didn’t know but he was living not very far from where I do in Bangkok. His name is Imran (not his real name) and he came to Bangkok 10 months ago escaping the deadly threats of Muslim fanatics in Pakistan.
Through television, he became a nationally known “blasphemer” and in Pakistan all anyone has to do is be accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammed and they become immediately fair game. No Court can prevent the murder of anyone accused of blasphemy.
Imran is from a poor family though he’s well educated for an adolescent — speaks passable English too — at a Catholic school in his home town of Sialkot, about 140 kilometers from Lahore.
Despite their poverty, the extended family pooled resources and some went into debt to get him an air ticket and a visa to get out of Pakistan as quickly as he could.
But he landed in Bangkok with nothing and knew no one. Somehow, he got my contacts. We exchanged text messages and then met at the Jesuit house in Bangkok, Xavier Hall.
Imran’s courage and determination were matched by the desperation of his condition — sharing a small room with one small window in it, no fan in Bangkok’s blazing high summer, the floor he sleeps on riddled with bugs that were feasting on him and just surviving on street food and what he could beg. He was attending a Catholic parish school and seeking to advance his education.
But he has no money, no financial transfers from his poor family at home to meet his expenses, no friends in his hideaway from persecution, and he sleeps on the floor (like most people in Thailand because it’s cooler) but without a chair or a cupboard to store his things and little more than the clothes on his back.
Thanks to the generosity of donors, I could give him some cash. But as he walked away, I looked up to the smog drenched heavens and asked myself what is to become of Imran?
Then the penny dropped. There are a few other families we support, and I thought they might have some ideas. The best friends of poor people are other poor people and having to rely on their own wits and imagination, they might have some ideas.
I rang Inayat who’s 22 going on 41 and Nadeem who’s 13 going on 27. We talked, and they agreed that they and their families take in Imran, arrange for his accommodation in the same safe block well away from the immigration police so he and they can live in some security without the threat of the Immigration Detention Center hanging over them. The families could feed him and help him with his education because there’s a school for Pakistani kids in the block.
A second-hand computer so he can go online to enhance his learning just as the 13-year-old Nadeem is doing with the computer we bought for him won’t be hard to find.
These families are part of a group that we are doing our best to get resettled out of Thailand in coming months. Imran can join that little gang and find a new life.
That’s what’s to become of Imran and it’s proof that the best friends poor people can have are other poor people.
The struggle continues.
Father Michael Kelly SJ is the CEO of UCAN Services.