– April 17 2019
A childhood escape changes a doctor's life
Lured into a car with a promise of toys and chocolates, three-year-old Mohammad Ariful Haque was kidnapped from his village in Bangladesh and destined for the camel races in Dubai.
The traffickers intended to sell him and other boys as child camel jockeys - a now banned practice in which children from impoverished families, some bought or kidnapped, rode in the dangerous races.
“They would put children no more than five years old on top of the camel and race from one side of the desert to the other,” he explains. “There is no guarantee I would have survived.”
Today Mohammad Ariful Haque is Dr Arif, a 32-year-old orthopaedic resident physician. His five-month journey with traffickers through Bangladesh and India ultimately lead him to the SOS Children’s Village in Dhaka, Bangladesh – and a life dedicated to helping the needy.
Arif’s time with the traffickers ended at the airport in Bombay, now Mumbai. Wearing expensive clothes, Arif and three other children were told to give false names and pretend to be travelling as with family. “We were trained in what to say and what to do,” he says.
It was there that the young Arif – moments from boarding the plane to Dubai – ran up to police and told them the man he was travelling with was not his father.
“I have no idea if they understood me, but all the passengers were brought to the immigration room again,” recalls Arif.
The police rescued Arif and three other children. As far as he knows, the traffickers spent five years in prison for the crime.
But Arif’s journey did not end happily there.
‘I wanted to do something bigger’
He spent the next eight years in youth detention centres in India. Eventually, publicity about the plight of kidnapped children led SOS Children’s Villages to bring him and 11 other children back to Bangladesh. Some of the children returned to their parents and relatives. But, due his circumstances, Arif remained at the SOS Children’s Village.
“The SOS Children’s Village was the safest place in the world," says Arif. “I could see my future. I felt I could do something with my life.”
Arif came to believe that nothing was impossible. Although at first he wanted to be a cricket player, he eventually decided to study medicine and become a doctor. “I wanted to do something bigger,” he says. “Once I was deprived, and I was helped. Now I feel it is my responsibility to give back to society.”
In 2015, he volunteered to help Pakistan address its high infant mortality. In 2017, he worked in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh to provide health services to more than 1,200 children and 300 elderly. In Egypt, where he is an orthopaedic resident at Cairo University Hospital, he organises free medical camps every six months for Bangladeshis living in the countryside.
Dr Arif at his free clinic
Arif hopes after his medical residency to practice as an orthopaedic surgeon and start his own orthopaedic centre catering to the poor. “Being a doctor – especially one who grew up in SOS – I can’t be self-centred,” he says.
Whenever he returns to Dhaka to the SOS Children’s Village, he has a simple message for children and young people: “SOS is a gift, make the best of it,” he tells them.
“I started from zero, and today I'm here,” he adds. “I’m the happiest and luckiest man in the world.”
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