Sayeed Habibullah Jamail just graduated from high school. In most countries, this milestone would have been a cause for celebration, but also an expected step in life’s journey. For Sayeed, a student of Abdul Ali Mastaghni High School in Kabul, Afghanistan, it has been dangerous, arduous and not without pain and loss.

Sayeed comes from a very poor family. His father Kamaluddin, unable to read and write even their native language, was keen Sayeed became an educated member of society. “If you study well, you will have a better life in the future and also be of service to your community”, Kamaluddin counselled his son.

Notwithstanding the family’s financial situation, Sayeed had a happy early childhood. That changed when he lost his father to a suicide attack in Abol Fazal cemetery in Kabul, in which Sayeed came close to losing his own life.  After his father’s death, the family’s situation worsened. Sayeed looked for employment, but with little work available and low wages it was difficult to provide the family even with regular daily meals. Working hard to battle these challenges and somehow support the family became his daily life. “I felt helpless and hopeless”, Sayeed remembers.

In 2012, Sayeed was enroute to Faryab when a terrorist group invited him to join them. When Sayeed declined – it was a suicide attack which had killed his father – they tortured him and forced him to join them. They started teaching him to use weapons and how to fight. His habits began to change day by day; he started to become hardened and brutal.  After a year, and desperately missing home, Sayeed managed to escape. He spent many days and nights on the road, running and hiding, until finally reaching home. Reunited with family, Sayeed was happy again, despite continuing to be tormented by memories of his time in the terrorist camp.

2013 marked a new beginning for Sayeed. He started school in Faryab. After some time in Faryab, he returned to Kabul and switched to a school there. In Kabul, Sayeed came into contact with Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), a tdh South Asia partner organization. They treated him with love and kindness and welcomed him to the APV family. This made Sayeed feel happy and secure, and made him realize he was not alone. The APV teachers helped him to look past the bad times and start a new life. Five years on from that time, Sayeed proudly graduated from high school.

Given his journey, Graduation Day unsurprisingly had a special significance for Sayeed. “Being at this school brought back happy memories of my childhood. It also reminds me of my father’s words. Graduation Day for me means graduating into a world free of violence, which has always been my dream. Having lived through horrific experiences, I am now optimistic and hopeful. I hope to become a doctor and serve my people. I also want to be a peace activist and bring real and everlasting peace to the people of Afghanistan.”