Kafia Mahdi, who was only 14 at the time had to flee her homeland, Somalia with her mother and siblings rather than agree to her father’s terms of giving out her hand in marriage. She always believed that with an education, she could be an important person in life.
In a report released by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on the motivational story of Kafia Mahdi, it reads ‘all she wanted was to be in a safe place’.
At 15, she made a long and difficult journey spanning a year to the Hungarian border, where she was stopped along with other refugees as the authorities sorted them by age. Older refugees were sent to reception centers, under-aged ones into care and those of Mahdi’s age went to an orphanage near Budapest.
“I didn’t even know where we were,” she says. “I had no idea what language they (the border guards) were speaking. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to be in a safe place.”
Talking about the orphanage, she went on to say, “I felt pretty bad,” she says. “There was only one other girl, also from Somalia, and at first we had to share accommodation with the boys. But the social workers were kind and I decided to make an effort. I started to learn Hungarian. When you speak Hungarian, you understand the people. They are straightforward and nice.”
However, as a result of her striking looks, she began to get modelling offers, but she was skeptical at first. It was after she accepted work from a recommended agency that her story changed for the better.
The events of her life have been documented in a film titled Easy Lessons (Könnyű Leckék) by Hungarian director Dorottya Zurbó.
“Working on the film was challenging,” Mahdi said ahead of the documentary’s release in Hungarian cinemas. “I had to share my full story, my feelings and my deepest thoughts, which I always find hard to express. But after a while, I got to know the crew and that made me comfortable to open up about a lot of things.”
The documentary also gives insight into her internal struggle: although Mahdi works regular jobs outside modelling as a ticket checker at a cinema and as a receptionist at a magazine, she wonders what her mother would make of the life she has created.
“I’m so afraid,” she tells her mother through the film. “If you knew what I do, what would you say? Would you despise me?”
Mahdi remains ever humble and hopes that the film will help others like her. “The film has made me more noticeable but I don’t really consider myself a star. I hope it will help other refugees by showing them that they are capable of doing anything.”