Dreams of rebuilding – Pharo’s story, part two

Asylum seekers volunteering in the grounds at Parkfield House – now operated by People’s Parkfield CIC

Pharo is just 19 years old but has already lived the equivalent of several lifetimes, seen things the rest of us would never want to and has travelled thousands of miles, mostly on foot, seeking asylum in the U.K.

Last week, we tracked his journey from Afghanistan across Turkmenistan into Kazakhstan and across Russia before walking into Europe and taking the dangerous channel crossing in a dingy before coming to Paignton.

When Pharo arrived in the Bay, he was wearing the trousers he had left home in more than two years before. They were so threadbare they hardly stayed up. But the clothes he stood up in were all he had.

One of the first people he met in Paignton was Torbay Communities’ Specialist Community Builder Ash Rangasamy, who shared a little of his story whilst appealing for clothes for this lanky, all-skin-and-bones young man.

The response was instant and we were inundated.

We could have filled three wardrobes with the amount of clothes we received. Some were brand new, with the labels still on – sportswear, designer clothing, and essentials.

Among the donations was a brand new smartphone, fortuitous because Pharo was on a mission to contact his family.

Everyone joined in. Volunteers, other asylum seekers and Ash all began the mammoth task and amazingly, she was tracked down in just four days.

Ash takes up the story: “We managed to make contact. I will never forget that extraordinary moment. I will always feel privileged for being able to bear witness to that momentous occasion. I don’t think I will ever see both pain and joy at such extremes simultaneously again.”

But speaking to his family was just the start for Pharo, despite his own dire straits – as an asylum seeker, he received a weekly payment of just nine pounds and he was desperate to send every penny to them.

Entreaties that he might need it himself were rebuffed with the words, “they need it more”.

The high cost of transferring money initially made it look impossible as the charges outstripped the sum being sent, but eventually, a way was found to send it for free. And he did every single week.

It surprised no one that Pharo was determined to work, perhaps not immediately (the rules do not allow it) but further down the line when hopefully his asylum application had been approved.

He went off and figured out what he needed to do to get a job in this new home country. He asked Ash for help, but hit a stumbling block when he came across  the term CV and their conversation went something like this:

“Ash, what the hell is a C.V?”

“Ah”, that is the worst thing you’ll write about the best things you’ve done”, said Ash.

Both of them sat and stared at a blank page. He was a kid. He had never worked, aside from occasionally helping his dad with his business and that was mainly to ‘sample the products’ (chocolate and sweets).

“We need to show some experiences you’ve had and that you can work,” pointed out Ash.

“Well, what about my journey here?” Pharoh shot back.

“What do you mean?” Ash asked.

“I walked across half the world to get here! Doesn’t that count?”


Realising that paid work would have to wait, he was again resolute and said to Ash: “Okay, I can’t work now, but I need things to fill this CV with. I can work for free, right?”

“Yeah, you can volunteer.”

Job done. Thus, the busiest boy in Torbay was born. He got involved in local projects, fixing up gardens and bikes and helping charity shops and churches. Anything he could do to add to that mystical ‘C.V’. and when he wasn’t working, he was studying.

He asked for help to get some books and he was introduced to the library and was signed up for a card.

However, a few days later when asked how the library was going he looked slightly dismayed and said he couldn’t find what he was looking for. He wanted books on engineering and architecture.

“You want to be an engineer?” asked Ash.

He paused for a moment. His body language was a mix of caution and weariness.

“Ash, my country has been at war for 40 years. My entire life, people have come to destroy my home. I want to return one day and rebuild it.”