Thursday, March 2nd, 2017.

Author Gulwali Passarlay with Excelsior pupils Shakira Begum, Tessy Idemudia, Sarah Lamb and Madina Mangal

The incredible story of one man’s escape from the terror of life in war-torn Afghanistan captivated Excelsior Academy students in a presentation on World Book Day.

Gulwali Passarlay’s life-threatening journey to freedom from his Afghan home to his eventual arrival in Britain is the subject of a heart-rending biography ‘The Lightless Sky.’

He told Excelsior students of how his mother, fearing for his safety and that of his brother Hazrat, arranged for them to leave their village and seek sanctuary in the West.

Gulwali’s father and grandfather were killed in a shoot-out with US troops having been suspected of hiding weapons for the Taliban.

As a 12-year-old boy, he found himself pressured by the Taliban who wanted him and his brother to become freedom fighters, while the US forces were keen to recruit them as spies.

He and his brother were separated and Gulwali battled his way across Europe, escaping the clutches of human traffickers, to eventually arrive in England – where his brother had made it to – via the infamous ‘Calais Jungle’ asylum seekers camp.

After arriving in the UK, his ordeal was not over. Gulwali had to convince a sceptical Home Office of the authenticity of his flight to freedom.

He eventually settled and studied politics at Manchester University, campaigning for social justice and was chosen as an Olympic Torch bearer for the London 2012 Games.

Gulwali visited Excelsior to tell his epic life story through the academy’s programme with New Writing North.

New Writing North’s ‘Read Regional’ campaign celebrates northern authors by taking writers like Gulwali out on the road to events where they talk about their prose and the stories behind them.

Gulwali told pupils of his early education in Afghanistan: “School for me was a place of peace – one thing that can’t be taken away from you is knowledge.

“We had to hide from rocket attacks and we lived in constant fear of being killed, it was terrible to grow up in a war zone.

“The reason I tell my story is to make people realise how fortunate and lucky they are not to go through what I went through and to be grateful for what they have.

“We are lucky and fortunate and we should share our privileges.”

Joanna Fleet, Senior Development Leader for English at Key Stage 3, said: “Gulwali’s life story is incredibly powerful and moving and made a real impact on everyone at Excelsior Academy who heard it.

“It is fitting that such a powerful story was told on World Book Day. Gulwali’s book ‘The Lightless Sky’ shows the power of literature to bring to life people’s lives in such a vivid way.”