A former child refugee has been reunited with a man who bought her a bike when she was 5 years old, thanks to a Twitter appeal to find him that went viral.
Mevan Babakar lived in a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands with her parents in the 1990s. She is currently taking a sabbatical from her job at a fact-checking organization in London to retrace the journey her family took after fleeing Iraq during the Gulf War.
On Monday she tweeted a picture of the man who worked at the refugee camp, asking for people's help in identifying him. She wrote that when he gave her a bike, "My five-year-old heart exploded with joy. I just want to know his name. Help?"
The tweet was retweeted thousands of times, and people also got in touch with Babakar, 29, to say the man and his wife had helped them, too. Within 24 hours, not only had the man been found, but he was close enough for Babakar to meet him in person that day.
They were reunited in Germany, where the man, Egbert, lives. Babakar said meeting Egbert "felt like I'd been transported back in time. I felt safe, like I'd seen a family member I hadn't seen in a long time."
“It was hugely surreal and kind of overwhelming, a lot of emotions at once," she told BuzzFeed News from the phone in the Netherlands.
Egbert remembered Babakar and her mother from all those years ago, and the three of them plan to stay in touch and meet up in the future. “My mum is very excited to meet him," Babakar said, adding that Egbert had told a local journalist that if there was anyone he could have seen again from his time working at the refugee camp, "it would have been Mevan and her mother."
“My mum worked with him as much as she could; we both spoke a little bit of English," Babakar said, when asked why Egbert remembered her and her mother after almost 25 years. "I think that my mother especially is somebody who can bring a lot of light and love to a situation.”
Babakar said trying to learn Egbert's name was part of her journey to retrace her family's steps as refugees. “I felt like our refugee story was something that happened to me, not necessarily something that I owned," she said. "There were many parts that I remembered, and many parts that I didn’t. I wanted to color in my memory of that period, and rethink it as an adult.”
Babakar said that after her reunion with Egbert went viral, people from all over the world messaged her with people's acts of kindness toward them when they were refugees.
She said many of these stories "we don't normally hear, because they happened at a time of danger, and it gets subsumed into everything else as people live quiet lives. But for every bad refugee story, there are thousands and thousands of positive ones.”
Babakar said "the most important thing I want people to realize is that as an individual, you are powerful, and you’re powerful in the way you treat people.
“When things are bleak and when things are dark, there are always acts of kindness between people that can shape a lifetime.”