At a time when many of us are discouraged or give up the struggle to resolve our personal deadlocks, women like Sonia, without intending to, are a source of inspiration and activation for all of us.

“My name is Mathira Jaffri but I prefer to be called Sonia. I was born and raised in Pakistan. Until I was 30 I lived with a male body but I always knew I was a woman. When I lost my parents, I realized that life was too short and decided to have surgery to get the body I could finally feel like myself. Despite the difficulties, I studied at the National School of Fine Arts and worked in Pakistani television. I became a recognizable face, but never actually accepted.

Life for a trans person in Pakistan is unbearable and painful mentally, physically and socially. People don’t understand you and become very cruel without you ever having acted against them. I did not find full acceptance and support from my family members either, except for one of my brothers. I decided to leave my country at the age of 42. I wanted to leave behind all the toxic relationships and a culture that filled me with experiences of hatred, rejection and bullying. I was looking for a place where I would feel more accepted and safer, so I decided to leave for Europe.

When I arrived in Greece in September 2019, nothing felt like the acceptance and security I was looking for. At first, everything was difficult and unfamiliar. I had no friends or acquaintances, I had no money, I had no home, I had nothing. In addition, new experiences of violence came to add to the existing ones. Here I met my ex-husband who gave me an illusion of happiness in the first few months. Very quickly he turned out to be abusive and my trust in people was shaken even more deeply.

Slowly I started to go to NGOs and get help and counselling from them. The professionals in the organizations offered me small daily comforts and so I began to have confidence in them and in myself.

I entered the A Step Forward Open Accommodation Center in the early spring of 2021 and stayed there until I found safe and more permanent housing. The team of professionals there supported me on many levels and helped me move one step further. They treated me with respect and human concern.

Those who have supported me tell me that what I have achieved, I have achieved on my own and that makes me proud of myself. But I am also grateful to the staff of the NGOs I approached, including Médecins du Monde, for giving me the support I needed to stand on my own two feet during one of the darkest periods of my life.

Today I try to help others as much as I can because I was helped too. I am a believer and I get strength and life values from religion.

I would like to say to people who are experiencing similar difficulties to the ones I went through, not to be disappointed. Things are difficult and sources of help are few and far between. However, trust the professionals at the organizations, listen to what they have to say and utilize the power of their advice. Mobilize for yourself and don’t expect someone other than you to take charge of your life. Believe in yourself! These things helped me and something else that the psychologist at A Step Forward often reminded me of and I try to follow today: give it time and be patient because it is essential both in our relationships with people and in our struggle to change our life circumstances for the better.”

During her stay at the A Step Forward Open Accommodation Center, Sonia was directly supported by the professionals of the structure. She was an active member of the women’s groups and participated in the external integration and recreational activities organized. Today, although she has left the accommodation center, she regularly stops by to say good morning and to share important milestones in her life. She has managed to obtain refugee status and get her hands on the coveted residence permit. Despite the many adversities in her life, Sonia has not ceased to see the good in others, to believe in herself, to look for dynamic ways to deal with her issues, either alone or with the help of professionals working in organizations such as Doctors of the World. She never stops dreaming and making plans to make her life even more fulfilling and meaningful. At the same time, she dares to “break” her anonymity by telling her own story and showing her face, in order to inspire and give courage to those who are going through similar problems and feel that the difficulties of life have brought them to their knees.