24 Years Ago He Gave a Refugee Child Her First Bicycle. Now, She's Finally Found Him to Say Thank You

When 29-year-old Mevan Babakar decided to embark on a journey to retrace the many miles she and her Kurdish family had traveled in search of safety after fleeing Iraq more than two decades ago, she hoped to find a familiar face.

It was a long shot, but both Babakar and her mother, who now live in London, U.K., had never forgotten the generosity of a kind man they had met in the 1990s while living at a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands. This man had given a then five-year-old Babakar at least one gift that would stay with her for the rest of her life.

"He ran this warehouse where asylum seekers and refugees would go to get supplies. He was just very kind," Babakar told Newsweek.

"My mom always described him as someone who had made her feel human again when she was often just treated like a number," she said. "He would listen to her stories and treat her with kindness and respect."

Then, when Babakar and her mother left the camp, she said that the man had come to visit them, bringing along two bikes as gifts—"one for my mother and one for me."

"It was such a beautiful gesture," said Babakar, who now works at a U.K. fact-checking charity.

"Firstly, which child doesn't want a really big gift?" she joked. But, more importantly, Babakar said, as a child who grew up with few possessions to her name, the kind man's gesture also gave her another gift beyond monetary value: A sense of "self-worth."

Mevan
As a child, Mevan Babakar, now 29, fled Iraq with her family, eventually ending up at a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands. That is where she and her family encountered a man who changed her life with one kind gesture.

"I was a kid who didn't really get gifts," Babakar said. "As a refugee you don't have much money to share... So, it was a really big deal for me."

"Beyond the bike, what was more important is that it became the foundation of my self-worth," she said. "What I mean was that I didn't ever feel like I deserved a big gift like that... and when someone who isn't your mother and father comes and says you deserve this big thing, it makes you think about yourself differently."

So, when the 29-year-old arrived in Zwolle after retracing the miles she and her parents traveled across Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia after fleeing Iraq during the first Gulf war, she found herself looking for the kind man's familiar face among those who passed her by.

"In all honesty, I was wandering around, looking at every single old man and being like, 'are you the old man? Are you the old man?'"

"I thought I was going there to find out about the refugee camp," she said. "But, I clearly had just wanted to find this person and say thank you."

However, despite constantly peering at strangers wondering if it was him, Babakar never crossed paths with her old friend.

In a "last-ditch attempt," she decided to turn to the internet, posting a photo of the man on Twitter with the caption: "Hi internet, this is a longshot, BUT, I was a refugee for 5 years in the 90s and this man, who worked at a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands, out of the kindness of his own heart bought me a bike."

"My five-year-old heart exploded with joy. I just want to know his name. Help?" she implored.

Twenty-four hours and more than 3,000 retweets later, the Twitterverse had done its job, with the man's family coming forward.

When Newsweek spoke to Babakar on Tuesday, she was preparing to meet her family's never-forgotten friend.

"WE FOUND HIM!!" Babakar announced in a follow-up tweet that has so far been liked more than 2,000 times. "Guys, I knew the internet was great, but this is something else," she wrote.

After 24 years, Babakar is just hours away from being able to deliver the message she has wanted to convey to the kind man for so many years: "Thank you."

"I mean, I need to sit down, maybe, and think about what exactly I want to say, but I think it really just boils down to 'thank you'," she told Newsweek.

"It's not just me who wants to say 'thank you'—it's also my mother," she said, adding that her mother would likely be Skyping in to the meeting from her London home.

However, Babakar said there is at least one other person who wants to deliver the same message to the man—a woman who got in touch after seeing the 29-year-old's post saying she had also experienced the man's generosity at the same refugee camp.

The woman, Babakar said, has since returned to Iraq, but she has never forgotten the kindness of the man who "helped her learn the language and just made her feel human again."

Reflecting on the past 24 hours, Babakar said she never could have expected that her post would "escalate to this point."

"In my wildest dreams, I did not think I would be meeting him the next day," she said. "I'm overwhelmed."

Ultimately, Babakar said, the "most important thing for me is how these small acts of kindness really helped shape me as a person and actually, even when things are very dark or bleak, there are these small acts of kindness that can happen between people and that can mean a lot."

Correction (14/8/19): This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Mevan Babakar's name.

Mevan Babbakar
Now 29, Mevan Babakar had embarked upon a journey following in the footsteps her family took when they fled Iraq in the 1990s before she decided to find the man who showed her family kindness at a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands.
24 Years Ago He Gave a Refugee Child Her First Bicycle. Now, She's Finally Found Him to Say Thank You | World