Internet helps former refugee reunite with man who gave her bike 24 years ago
It’s been a whirlwind 36 hours for Mevan Babakar after she tweeted out a decades-old photograph to try and reconnect with a stranger who’d showed her an indelible kindness years ago.
For months, the 29-year-old U.K. tech worker, had been reflecting on her childhood in a Dutch refugee camp when she stumbled upon a photo of a mysterious man.
In the 1990s, Babakar and her Kurdish parents had fled their home in Iraq during the Gulf War. An arduous journey had taken them through Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia before they ended up in a refugee camp in Zwolle, Netherlands.
When she was five years old, the man in the photo had gifted her with a shiny new red bike at a time when her parents weren’t able to. The family eventually moved to London, where Babakar currently works.
On Monday, with only scant details, Babakar tweeted the photo to her followers hoping to reunite with the “generous” stranger.
“Out of the kindness of his own heart (he) bought me a bike. My five-year-old heart exploded with joy. I just want to know his name,” Babakar wrote of the man, who she recalled would do odd jobs around the camp.
‘WE FOUND HIM’ AFTER NEARLY A DAY
Mere hours after her original post, she received a message from someone claiming to know the mystery man. Babakar, who works for a British fact-checking charity, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview that she was “incredibly skeptical …but I said, ‘sure let’s have a chat.’”
Through the course of several conversations, she found out the man's full name, his nickname and the fact that she was only hours away from where he was.
Less than a day after putting out the tweet, Babakar posted on Twitter, “WE FOUND HIM … Guys, I knew the internet was great but this is something else.”
Within 36 hours of her first tweet, Babakar found herself in Germany taking a new photograph with the man.
"This is Egbert. He's been helping refugees since the 90s. He was so happy to see me. He was proud that I'd become a strong and brave woman,” she wrote in a Twitter post.
She told CTVNews.ca that never in her “wildest dreams” did she ever imagine meeting Egbert, much less this quickly.
“It was really wonderful thing to be able to say thank you to somebody who means a lot to you that they might not know it,” she said, adding that Egbert, a private man by nature, didn’t want to publically give out his last name.
In a second Twitter post, she said “he thought the bike was too small a gesture to make such a big fuss about but he's really glad that it was the key to bringing us together again.”
Babakar knew she wouldn't be able to express everything she was feeling at the moment, so before she left Egbert's home in Germany, she gave him a card that “explained everything I wanted to say.”
“I told him that he made me feel valued and special and how that was important for me growing up,” she said.
Babakar was extremely grateful that strangers on the internet made the reunion even possible, writing in another tweet, “I am completely blown away by the love I have received online. The internet is what we make it.”
‘I’VE ALSO HAD OTHER REFUGEES REACH OUT’
Back when Babakar was living in the Dutch refugee camp, Egbert had even invited her family to spend Christmas with his family.
Other former refugees reached out to Babakar through social media to share their own refugee stories, including two refugees who also previously met Egbert.
“Not only did I find him, but I've also had other refugees reach out to me and tell me that him and his wife helped them too!” she wrote. “Their kindness has touched so many lives. One woman said ‘they weren't friends to me, they were family.’”
Babakar was also contacted by Sandra, another worker at the refugee camp. In a tweet, Babakar described how “[Sandra] was incredible too, she helped me use a computer for the first time! I now work in tech!”
Now, she can’t help but reminisce on the small acts of kindness complete strangers showed to her and her family.
A few months ago, she took a sabbatical from work to go back to Zwolle, Netherlands to begin retracing her family’s roots and journey from Iraq to London to “colour in those memories a bit more.”
“Small actions can have big consequences. The kindness that Egbert and his family showed me will stay with me for a lifetime, and it continues to shape me as a person,” she wrote in a tweet. “That's the magical thing about kindness, it doesn't cost anything and it changes the world one person at a time.”
WE FOUND HIM!! A thread— Mevan | میڤان (@MeAndVan) August 13, 2019
After 3000 RTs, 3 news articles, 1 video and thousands of wonderful messages from around the world, @Arjen78 made contact with the family!
Guys, I knew the internet was great but this is something else. https://t.co/H4qmL1uVqQ
Never in my wildest dreams did I think this story would resonate so strongly across the world. I'm completely honoured and humbled by the response. How we treat eachother is everything, big actions or small. At the end of the day, it's the measure of us all. https://t.co/wfIKCDABVy— Mevan | میڤان (@MeAndVan) August 14, 2019
This is Egbert. He's been helping refugees since the 90s. He was so happy to see me. He was proud that I'd become a strong and brave woman. He said that was his wish for me when I was small. He grows orchids. He has a beautiful family. He said it felt like I'd never left. pic.twitter.com/WlDWm2seVh— Mevan | میڤان (@MeAndVan) August 13, 2019
He thought the bike was too small a gesture to make such a big fuss about but he's really glad that it was the key to bringing us together again.— Mevan | میڤان (@MeAndVan) August 13, 2019
He says he doesn't smile in photos so we took a serious one together instead. pic.twitter.com/8UoaqLf1nI