Luali Brahim Bahia, 37 years old

Luali Brahim Bahia, 37 years old

Born in the Laâyoune refugee camp, Luali is now married and has a child of his own living in the camp. Having obtained a degree in accounting, he currently teaches Spanish in a school in Laâyoune, but also earns a living as a hairdresser.

"My mother died when I was four, so I was brought up by my father and my grandmother, along with my four sisters. But my father is disabled, so the responsibility for the family falls to me, as the man of the household.

That's life; you have to live it as it comes, and I'm satisfied with what fate has given me. Water, electricity, light: everything is a daily challenge for us. Without humanitarian aid, we couldn't survive. But one thing that is even more important than humanitarian aid is education.

15 years in Cuba

I studied in the refugee camps until my fifth year of primary school, when I had the opportunity to continue my studies in Cuba [editor - thanks to a grant from the Cuban government]. That was in 1989, when I was 12. This meant that I lived in Cuba for 15 years, without seeing my family. Our only communication was through occasional letters. Sometimes a whole year would go by without me hearing anything from my family.

During my childhood and my youth, I shared the happiest times of my life with my Cuban friends and my host family. I studied accounting at the University of Ciego de Avila. When I came back to the camps in 2004 I didn't recognise anyone any more. My sisters didn't even know me. That is difficult for me to talk about, even now.

Hairdresser and teacher

When I came back I also asked myself: I was born during the war and yet, 23 years later, nothing had changed. What purpose had it all served?

At the moment, I am both a hairdresser and a Spanish teacher. I try as much as I can to help my people, because if I don't, then who will? I feel responsible towards my people as a Sahrawi. My contribution as a Spanish teacher is a mere drop in the ocean for all the children who have to stay in these refugee camps. And these children give a lot back to me too, even though they are suffering and none of this is their fault.

Plants and fish

My dream is to be able to go back to Western Sahara. I was born here, and I have never seen this country that I have always heard people talking about. When I was a child, they told me about the plants and the fish there. I would also love it if the children here could have the opportunity to live in a house, go to the beach, live a normal life and have a future.

Today the children ask me: "What future? You didn't have one, did you? We won't have one either!". These children just see the diplomats who come, give grand speeches, then leave again. But I think that in life, we must never lose hope and faith that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.

Faith in the future

Nobody should worry about the future, because it may bring good things that could surprise us at any moment. That is why I will carry on fighting until the end of my days. But after many years, nothing ever happens. It is becoming harder and harder for me to keep saying the same thing to them.

40 years is an important landmark for all Sahrawis. But saying the number of years is one thing; living it is another. Let's hope that this testimony will go far and will have a profound impact on kind-hearted people everywhere, so that they can help our small community of people who have been deprived of their freedom. Together, we can get there."