'If I didn't volunteer at the Olympics, I don’t know if I would be alive today'

Mfa Zaman

Mfa at the Olympic Park in Stratford - Credit: Mfa Zaman

A victim of modern slavery changed his life through volunteering at the London Olympic Games in 2012. 

Mfa Zaman told this newspaper he was homeless and had attempted suicide after being forced to work against his will, but volunteering at the London Olympic Games was a turning point in his life. 

Having grown up in eastern Bangladesh, Mfa travelled to London in his early 20s on the promise of a better life.  

But when he arrived in the UK, Mfa said he was exploited by his employer who forced him to work 15-hour shifts for less than £1 an hour in a restaurant. 

“I was mentally and physically tortured,” Mfa said.

Barely permitted to go outside, Mfa lived above the site in a flat with no hot water or heating, crammed in with six other staff.  His employer had also taken all his documents.

“I didn’t even know there was a law for victims of slavery,” he added.

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Breaking point came with the discovery that his boss was using his identity to clear debt racked up by the business.

Mfa was threatened at knifepoint when he confronted his employer about it, he said, and felt he had no choice but to run. 

“It was better to stay on the streets, because if I stayed there (at the restaurant) I wouldn’t be alive,” he said.

He slept rough for three weeks before seeking help from an ex-customer, who helped Mfa get action from the authorities.

After a few years, Mfa applied to be an ambassador at the London Olympic Games in 2012. 

“It was a massive opportunity for me,” he said.

Throughout the games, Mfa welcomed athletes at Heathrow Airport and escorted them around London. He met people from all over the world and made enduring friendships.

Mfa Zaman

Mfa Zaman was a volunteer at the London 2012 Olympics - Credit: Mfa Zaman

“The London Olympics was one of the best memories in my life," he said. 

Being an ambassador at the games ignited a passion for volunteering in Mfa, and over the past 10 years he has worked at the Rugby and Cricket World Cup and as a frontline Covid vaccinator, run several London marathons and even founded a homeless charity.

“If I didn’t go to the Olympics, I don’t know whether I would be alive today," Mfa said. 

When life is difficult, the Samaritans is available 365 days, 24/7. Call for free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org.  

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