For Ismaël (31), helping others is not an obligation, it’s his passion. He has been dreaming of helping people his whole life, which in turn makes him happy. Although he left Ivory Coast as a young man, he never gave up on his dreams. He has faced many obstacles, but he always stayed grateful for life.

“When you give something to someone, you will get happiness in return. That’s what I have experienced. I probably feel happier helping someone than the person that I helped. My target is to be closer to people. So be friendly to all, help where you can, and do good things.” 

“I have been alone from a young age. I lost my dad when I was a baby and my mother died when I was only ten years old. You probably had the support of your parents at that age, but I ended up in the street. Even though some would do wrong and illegal things, I am proud of myself that I have never done that.  Many things happened but I always stayed true to myself.”

“Many things happened but I always stayed true to myself”

“My goal for the future is to help other people because I know what people are going through if you have nothing. As a young kid, I often had nothing to eat or drink and suffered from a lack of sleep. So, I dreamed of being rich, not only to help people with money or materialistic stuff but also emotionally.” 

Ismaël: “I’m happy and grateful to be alive”

“I have learned to be mentally strong after an accident that hit me two years ago. My arm got stuck in the machine and no one could help me. The only solution was to cut off my arm and so I did. I wasn’t aware of the accident for some time, but it caused a lot of emotional damage. Losing my arm wasn’t the most difficult part, but the realization that I will be handicapped for the rest of my life is.”

“I’m happy and grateful to be alive”

“After eight months in the hospital, I was dismissed. I lost my job leaving me with no money to pay rent. I lived as a homeless person on the streets of Brussels for three months. Some said I had to contact Payoke and they were willing to help me.” 

“A lot has changed since I came to them. They provided medication and put my papers in order so that I was legally residing in Belgium. The organization also provides some relaxing activities like yoga sessions, workshops, and sports where I have met many people.”

“Friendship for me represents the person who can help you emotionally and mentally and be there for you when needed. If you’re happy you live long and it’s also good for your mental health. Happiness is inside of you; I think that happiness explains life.”

“After the accident, I figured out what happiness is. It isn’t about what you need or where you want to go to be happy. I’m already happy and grateful to be alive because of the many experiences that I have gone through.”

Authors: Text: Sofie Terryn and Domagoj Koprivnjak

Video: Nieke Eigenhuis, Salla Kolehmainen, Uma Mertens and Gaby Neasçu