Farid Yaghini has an incredible passion for helping others. From being a refugee at the age of nine to an Afghanistan war veteran, Farid has seen quite a lot. He is now the founder of the Aftermath Association, an organization that is providing ‘long term management of PTSD through active philanthropy’.
My first time meeting Farid was at a Bridgehead on Bank Street after several emails back and forth to introduce The Coffee Date Campaign and to set a time to meet. We ordered our drinks, an iced coffee for him and a pot of tea for me, before sitting down at our table.
Farid was born in Iran in 1980, the year after the Islamic revolution. Farid and his family belonged to a religious minority which was no longer tolerated by the new Islamic regime. They were forced to escape to Pakistan with the hope of immigrating to Canada.
‘As a kid I got to go with smugglers and my parents went another route, we all went different routes so that if we got caught we wouldn’t all get killed’
This was Farid’s reality as a nine year old boy. When his family reunited in Pakistan, they stayed there for two years before coming to Canada.
They had spent almost all their money in their escape. When they finally arrived in Canada, they had to start over. They could only afford to live in the less desirable neighborhoods outside of Toronto.
Growing up, he was surrounded by people who were running from something, whether it be a war torn country or religious prosecution. He grew to love the other boys his age as brothers. He was however, the only one out of his group of friends that went to high school. Most of his friends had dropped out and were already selling drugs by that age. He knew it was wrong and never partook in it, but they were his friends and had taught him everything from speaking to girls to what to wear now that he was in Canada.
‘I didn’t necessarily fear the legal system, but I feared my father’
To avoid this group of friends as he finished high school, Farid went to Sir Sandford Flemming College, in Peterborough for electronic engineering. Just as he was finishing his studies, the market crashed. He was unable to find a job in his field. Farid was left painting houses while he friends prospered from selling drugs. He knew there was a potential of falling into that line of business.
‘My father always said: “Earn your keep”
At this time the military was offering full-time jobs for a three year commitment. They even offered to pay off some of Farid’s student debt. So, on August 18th, 2002, Farid joined the Canadian Armed Forces. Farid only planned on being in the military for the mandatory three years. That was ten years of service and two tours ago.
At 24 years old Farid could not explain his desire to return to Afghanistan not once, but twice. He just loved his job. Now, looking back, he is able to identify that he had a heightened sense of purpose while deployed. He had an ability to help others.
After his tours, he was assessed both physically and mentally by Canadian Forces mental health experts to determine why he was okay to return while some of his comrades were not. They found that Farid had more resiliency than some others because he had anchored himself to five defining moments.
Farid gave an example of a defining moment. During a foot patrol, Farid witnessed a commanding officer go against his standard operating procedures and bring a child with a rare heart condition to Canadian Forces base Camp Julien in Kabul, Afghanistan. Canadian Forces doctors diagnosed the little girl with a rare heart condition. The soldiers at the base and their families sponsored the little girl and her father to travel to Canada so that she could have the lifesaving surgery that would have been impossible in Afghanistan.
A month after the encounter, Farid and his patrol saw the girl again. She had returned to Afghanistan, completely recovered.
Memories like this, Farid explains, help him through remembering when he witnessed dead children with their organs removed for the black market.
It’s other events like bringing school supplies to a girls’ school during the dead of night and watching their excitement from the army lookouts the next morning that make it worth it to Farid. The soldiers were able to see the smiles on their faces and how grateful they were to have new supplies.
‘You made it, you won the lottery, but there was a sense of emptiness’
Looking back, he couldn’t believe the contrast between the challenges he faced growing up and his current reality. After two tours in Afghanistan and seven more years in the military than he had originally planned, Farid retired when it began causing problems with his home life. He came home to a lovely family, a house and a car.
A sense of guilt began to overwhelm him as he heard about and witnessed his military comrades suffering greatly from mental anguish. Reports of suicides and lives falling apart began to eat away at him.
Farid had just become a father. He found a stable, safe government job. Shortly after his daughter was born, he wrote ‘Dream until your dreams come true’ on her wall. Still, he felt like a hypocrite because he was not leading the life he wanted for his daughter.
His marriage failed shortly after that. As he sat alone in his unfurnished apartment, he tried to figure out what he wanted. He was in a dark place. He didn’t yet know how to fill the void the military had left in his life. After seeking help from professionals in the mental health field, Farid found that what he lacked was a sense of purpose.
To combat his sense of helplessness, he became a Big Brother and a sponsor for Christian Children. Still, that was not enough. He refused to just move on after hearing about the terrible PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that was crippling his friends. Farid himself has never suffered from PTSD, but was diagnosed with mild anxiety upon returning home.
‘If helping people in that manner, in that explosive, positive manner helped me, why can’t I set that up for someone else?’
That was the question he asked himself. Why couldn’t it work for others? His anchoring moments had helped him through some of the toughest times in his life. Why couldn’t they do the same thing for someone suffering from PTSD? He started volunteering at clinics to see what was being done for veterans with PTSD. What he found was that there was always an end date to the programs offered. There was always a victim and a caregiver.
What if the veterans could regain that sense of purpose that he was also lacking? What if they could become daily heroes as well as war heroes? Farid started talking about his ideas to friends. He explained the idea of giving veterans and first responders (Fire fighters, police officers, paramedics) the opportunity to replace the bad memories with positive ones of them giving back to their community.
‘A year ago I spoke out loud about this and now there’s an executive committee and a board of directors and there’s such amazing people and without them…this idea’s not even mine.’
Camp Aftermath is now a non-profit organization waiting for its charity status. This week the Aftermath Association will begin Crowd Funding for its first deployment of veterans and first responders to Costa Rica. They will go for a two week volunteer/recovery trip. During this trip, the volunteers will not only have the opportunity to help in the community by building schools or working with animals, but they will also participate in meditation, group therapy, team building and other events. Dr. John Whelan, a renowned mental health expert who sits on the Aftermath Association advising committee, will be advising them on the curriculum for the trip.
Farid attributes the success of the organization to the incredible volunteers. He explained that they support and motivate him each day to continue fighting for such a great cause.
‘It’s the volunteers at the end of the day’
After the first responders and veterans return from Camp Aftermath, they will continue volunteering in their own community with continual support from the members of their deployment and the Aftermath Association.
Farid’s dream to help others has grown from helping those in war torn countries as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces to also helping Canadian veterans and first responders. Each day the organization is growing, expanding to create even more of a difference. Farid explained that every day they are hearing from different organizations, mental health professionals or different people across Canada who want to help such a great cause.
Find a cause that you think is worth fighting for. Find something that lights your fire like Farid has done. Make a difference, fight for a change and you will see a difference.
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