Nujeen Mustafa fled Syria five years ago, crossing seven borders and the Mediterranean Sea to reach Germany - in the clunky confines of a steel wheelchair
It would be an understatement to say that Nujeen Mustafa is no average teenager.
The 19-year-old refugee undertook a gruelling 3,500-mile journey from Syria to Germany – in the clunky confines of a steel wheelchair.
Just under five years ago, Mustafa abandoned her family’s fifth-floor apartment in Aleppo, where she had been confined for most of her life.
Born with cerebral palsy, her only connection to the wider world had been a television set, through which she taught herself English by watching US soap operas.
When pro-Assad forces intensified their campaign of terror, Mustafa fled in a wheelchair, with her sister pushing her. Together, they crossed seven borders and the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.
In Mustafa’s biography, co-authored with veteran TV presenter Christina Lamb, she says ‘it took a while’ to travel in a wheelchair because those boats are ‘dangerous at the best of times’.
Today, Mustafa lives in the sleepy industrial town of Wesseling, outside Cologne, and has been granted asylum.
She tells Arabian Business: “My belief is that no hardship lasts for ever; there is light after darkness.”
Mustafa now goes to a school for people with disabilities and has published another book, ‘The Girl From Aleppo’. She says she is ‘mostly studying economy and administration’ and now speaks English, German and Arabic, as well as her mother tongue, Kurdish.
In an extraordinary example of her positive attitude, she says: “My special condition made the whole journey difficult for me and my sister, who was in charge of pushing the wheelchair across Europe, but I was aware this journey was going to be once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wanted to enjoy it as much as I could.”
Mustafa says: “In my opinion, success depends on one’s own determination and resilience. It’s important to have concise goals, but you must also be able to face the obstacles that you encounter on the way.”
Despite the eventual success of her fraught journey, Mustafa says the region needs to place more of a focus on disabled rights.
“Improving the infrastructure is essential for improving the lives of people with disabilities in the Middle East region.”
Mustafa also calls for the region to raise awareness of disabilities to help fight stigmas. “It would help people like us reach our full potential,” she says.
Despite enjoying the relative peace of her newfound life, Mustafa says she would do ‘anything in her power’ to make it possible for all refugees to return to the homes and lives they left behind.
She says: “I believe that the forces that are responsible for the break out of wars in any given country have failed to match their actions with efforts to relieve the graveness of the refugee situation.”
Mustafa hopes that the Middle East region will be become a ‘better place’ for youths in the not-too-distant-future.
“The Arabic youths have brilliant and bright minds which are full of unique and innovative ideas, but they won’t able to harness them unless there is political regeneration and more jobs.”
Despite the adversity that Mustafa has experienced, she says nothing will hold her back from pursuing her dreams. For starters, she wants to travel to Japan and visit The Great Wall of China but most of all, she wants to float in space to ‘escape the confines of gravity’.
When facing everyday adversity with her disabilities, she says she looks first to the late British scientist Stephen Hawking for inspiration.
“He’s one of the strongest fighters I have ever known; he is also proof that not only can you live, but you can also thrive, just using your brain.”
But Mustafa wants to do more than just ‘thrive’, she wants to devote herself to making the world a better place.
“I don’t want to live an unfulfilling life were I feel like I have done nothing for myself or others. I want to leave a positive impact on the world so that I will be fondly remembered.”
Given the incredible achievements Mustafa has accrued before even turning 20 years of age, it’s likely that her passage in history books has already been granted.