I felt it was unfair that she was left out, so I befriended her – so if that meant I was odd, so be it
Tell me about yourself
I grew up in a small area, there were many things to do with my family but I didn’t know that youth work existed. I had to attend other activities that my family wanted to do. My family consists of my mum and dad and two older brothers. I had a ‘safe’ family. I would have loved the opportunity to get involved in youth work as a young person when I was growing up.
You said “had to”?
My parents worried about me, they thought I was lonely at school and so they would always think up some activities for me to be involved in – they wanted me to be happy
Were you happy?
I guess so, but people thought I was odd, and I was odd. I talked to a girl from Pakistan who did not speak Norwegian, and I was looked at differently by all of those who ignored her. I felt it was unfair that she was left out, so I befriended her – so if that meant I was odd, so be it
How did you find out about youth clubs?
Well, at some point I told myself it was ok to be by myself. I avoided contact with others at school who were not interested in me. Then my parents decided to move house and it was between 7-8km away from my existing home. I was between middle school and elementary school. At my new school, I joined the school council, because no one else wanted to. They needed two people to do this. I thought I may get some friends there. I knew it was ‘nerdy’ to be in the school council. This is when I first met Amir.
How old were you? Do you think you had a burning desire to make a change?
Every school sent reps to go to the municipality meeting. No one wanted to go. I said ‘I can go’. I was aware that people thought I was nerdy; I thought I would use this. I was 12 years old. When I was there I met Amir. He was from Iran. I didn’t understand him at first, he spoke so quickly, he always speaks fast – its just his personality – I liked him immediately. He spoke to me like an equal, we had a rapport from the very beginning.
Amir really let me be me, he encouraged, challenged and supported me, I became a volunteer and a young leader – all because this strange, fast talking Iranian man, believing in me when I didn’t really believe in myself at all.
When you first met Amir – what were your first impressions, what did you think about him?
Amir was inspirational. Something inside me made me feel like I ‘belonged’ there. I did not want people to grow up like I had, unhappy and without a youth club. I wanted them to know that youth work was there. I became the leader of the council because Amir asked me and then encouraged me, I didn’t have the confidence at first, but Amir had faith in me this gave me the confidence I could be. I was involved with planning a trip to Brussels to do with Democracy. There was a group of 8-10 young people that I was with. Amir really let me be me, he encouraged, challenged and supported me, I became a volunteer and a young leader – all because this strange, fast talking Iranian man, believing in me when I didn’t really believe in myself at all.
What was different about Amir from other adults in your life?
Amir was the first person who cared about me. Teachers didn’t care, they just turned up, did their job and then left. He did his job and more, it always felt as though he wanted to be with me, with us as a group, he did it by choice. He gave me the confidence and wanted to see me do great things.
How would you define your relationship with Amir?
Amir has respect for young people and they respect him. He is able to work with really difficult young people as well as shy ones like me. When he works with difficult young people he ‘tames them’ – do you understand? Young men have been changed because of the relationship with him because of the life tools that Amir gave them. Amir was instrumental in getting me involved. Amir opened up an entire world for me that I had never seen before. The first time I said this I was 16 years old. ‘I want to be someone else’s Amir’. I want to be that special adult in some young person’s life, to be the one who listens, supports, challenges and pushes. I had a voice and Amir helped us all to speak. The added benefit of being involved also meant I had time off school. Amir said it was important to “take time and make time”. Also, I was given pizza and had power. I had never had this before. Who wouldn’t like it?
What do you think Amir would say if he heard you tell your story of how you met and the impact that he has had upon you?
I hope he already knows, I hope that he understands the importance of his role in my life. I hope he reads this and understands everyone needs an Amir in their life!
by Pauline Grace (2015)
Pauline Grace is a youth worker and head of the MA programme youth work at Newman University in Birmingham/UK.
Photos: Portrait © Oda Pernille Hoff, other: © poywe/Harti Gräbner