Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Our golden chance'

In Afghanistan, he witnessed his father's murder; here, he shrugs off his award as a role model for youth

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Khalid Hassani goes to school full time, works two jobs to support his mother and five siblings and drives two brothers to gymnastics several times a week.

He may have won Winnipeg's Youth Role Model Award for courage recently, but says life here and now is a piece of cake compared to what the family left behind in Afghanistan.

"Two people killed my father in front of me," said Khalid, recalling the shooting death of his dad at his electronics shop in Kabul when Khalid was just eight.

Having a business in Afghanistan was very difficult because his dad often had to deal with different religious military groups and gangs, said Khalid, now 24.


"Angry men" would go to the shop and demand money from his father. He gave them money, but that didn't stop them from coming back for more.

"Finally, my father said 'No, we don't have money for you.' " At 5 p.m. that day, when Khalid was with his dad minding the store, two men came back and shot his dad in the head.

"I was in shock," said Khalid. Their dad took care of the family. It wasn't long after he died that they were destitute. Khalid said his dad's family wanted nothing to do with his widow and six kids.

A neighbour convinced them to move to Pakistan where life would be a little better. There, the kids went to work in rug factories and their mom got piecework sewing. Khalid worked for a tailor in the morning, struggled in school in the afternoon, then went to his job at a pharmacy at night.

"We didn't think about our future or tomorrow," he said.

The pharmacist he worked for heard about the family's plight and helped Khalid apply for refugee status.

"We got our golden chance," he said from the family's big rented bungalow in St. James.

"Here, you can be anything you want."

They arrived in Canada in 2008 as government-sponsored refugees.

"We had to learn English. That was very difficult, when you go somewhere and don't know the culture."

As the oldest boy, though, it was his responsibility to step up.

"For one year, you have assistance," he said. "After that, you have to make your money."

So that's what he did. He works at Canada Safeway's Crestview store and is a Free Press carrier. He goes to classes during the day at Sturgeon Heights Collegiate.

He's thinking maybe he wants to be a police officer, but his mom isn't so sure. Where they come from, police have a bad reputation. In between classes, jobs and planning his future, Khalid drives Qayum and Fahim, his brothers who are competitive gymnasts, to practice.

"Their goal is hopefully to go to the Olympics," said Khalid.

Qayum also won a Youth Role Model Award for his athletic ability.

At the Citizens' Equity Committee's awards ceremony, their proud mom Jamila wept tears of joy at her sons' accomplishments.

"My mom doesn't want money. She wants us to be educated people," said Khalid.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2012 J7

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