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Little Man

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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.


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 conflict-ridden Swat Valley. “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 kameez, 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 Kanghar, 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.’

Posted by webmaster on Jun 29, 2009 1:34 PM US/Eastern

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