A 5-year-old Afghan refugee is putting his nightmare start to life behind him thanks to a cricket charity in New Zealand, writes Libby Wilson.
IN his short life, 5-year-old Muhammad has had to deal with his father’s murder, fleeing from Afghanistan and moving to the other side of the world.
However, his mother hopes playing cricket will now help him forget all they had to endure.
She’s still worried the death threats could follow them to New Zealand, so she has adopted the alias Shogofa for their safety.
‘‘I said to myself that one day my son will be a superstar for New Zealand. And I will be a person to work hard for New Zealand because, in bad times, New Zealand helped us and one day I will help back,’’ she said.
That dream is supported by Hamilton-based social enterprise The Waterboy, a group which links sponsors and kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to play sport.
Muhammad will now get mentoring, paid fees and transport – and he’s already met Black Caps cricketer Tim Southee, who fell in love with cricket when he was about Muhammad’s age.
On Monday afternoon, Muhammad donned a golddetailed Mumbai Indians shirt from Southee for a game of backyard cricket on the outskirts of Hamilton.
It’s a moving sight for Shogofa. In Afghanistan, she helped others – mainly women – with projects such as literacy and chicken farming.
But the Taliban didn’t like that and she got the first threatening call from them in 2013.
‘‘They said my full name ... Everything about me. You just feel that he’s in front of you. Even, he said, ‘Now we know which colour you’re wearing ... Just stop your projects, otherwise we’re going to destroy you and your family’.’’
Later that year, while Shogofa was six months pregnant, militants shot her husband – and their driver – when he went with her on a project.
S The threats also contributed to her needing an early C-section but, tragically, her newborn daughter died.
It was late 2014 when Shogofa left everything and took Muhammad to the border with Pakistan.
She bribed her way across without a passport, she said, then pretended to be dead in the back of an ambulance.
After months in Pakistan – often going days without food – Shogofa heard they could come to New Zealand as refugees.
But her freedom in New Zealand was shortlived as she and her son became the target of racist attacks soon after moving into their Hamilton Housing New Zealand home in 2015.
People told her to leave, knocked on her door late at night, calling ‘‘we want to talk to you, hey, muslim’’, and dumped rubbish on her lawn.
A family who helped Shogofa with her lawns eventually came to their rescue and took them into their home.
‘‘Sometimes people might say it’s like a movie, but my life is like a movie. Still, I’m fighting with my life but I will never lose my passion.’’
The Waterboy founder Tom Nabbs said Shogofa is an incredible woman.
‘‘Her objective is to make a better life with her son. Hopefully we’re helping her achieve it.’’
Nick and Ceri Rowland, who are paying for Muhammad’s cricket, said they were happy to be involved. ‘‘No-one in New Zealand can really understand what this family’s been through,’’ Nick said.
One day my son will be a superstar for New Zealand. And I will be a person to work hard for New Zealand because, in bad times, New Zealand helped us and one day I will help back.’ SHOGOFA