Refugee Week Sees University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) Sharing Stories from Their Students

Connecting Beyond Labels: A Global Movement

To mark Refugee Week (17-23 June) the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) is sharing stories from students who have been displaced from their home countries and are being supported by the University.

Refugee Week brings together people from different backgrounds to connect beyond labels and foster a deeper understanding of why people are displaced, and the challenges they face when seeking safety.

As part of the commitment to removing the barriers to participation in Higher Education faced by those seeking asylum, UWTSD introduced a Sanctuary Scholarship scheme for sanctuary seekers in 2021 aimed at people with refugee, humanitarian protected or asylum seeker status.

These scholarships are offered in recognition of the disruption to education that displaced people experience.

Connecting Beyond Labels: A Global Movement

Hannah has completed a PGCE (Professional Graduate Certificate in Education) at UWTSD and is currently working as a BAME Outreach Programme Development Officer in Swansea.

This is her story:

“Before I moved to Wales, I grew up in rural Kenyan village where I learnt and supported my parents to look after a coffee, fruit, and tea farm. Once the produce was sold, we got money for school fees. Education was important to my father and that is how I managed to study Nutrition at a Kenyan University.

“I moved to Wales in 2008 with my family and I settled in Cardiff, however due to a series of difficult situations, the family was separated and later scattered in London, and eventually in Swansea in 2009.  This change of circumstances meant I and my two boys had to seek refuge in Wales and came to make Swansea our home. Although it wasn’t my place of choice; the beauty of Swansea attracted me and reminded me of my rural Kenya where I grew up.  Being away and isolated from family was the most difficult part of living in Wales. The situation was difficult for me and the kids, but I must say, I didn’t sit back and feel sorry for myself. At least I could do something.

In 2010, Swansea became a ‘City of Sanctuary’. The movement was looking for people seeking sanctuary and other migrants as well as willing local people to become volunteers to welcome refugees. I offered to take part, and this was the best thing I ever did. The opportunity gave me a chance to learn many new skills, understand the UK and Welsh system and network extensively with organisations, institutions and people who pledged support and welcome for refugee in Swansea.

“In that atmosphere of volunteering, I came across a local project called MEWN (Minority Ethnic Women Network). MEWN had embraced a culture of learning in the lifelong learning to enable the learners to remain steadfast in the current, then changing and challenging service delivery environment.

“Citizenship, IT and ESOL classes were run with the aim to empower women from black and ethnic minority communities and enable them to develop their own initiatives and participate fully in mainstream services and workforce which could be hindered by various barriers including unrecognized qualifications and lack of English language skills.

“This was my perfect environment to quench my thirst for learning. In collaboration with other organisations and institutions, I met staff from University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) who had teamed up with MEWN to offer a PGCE-PCET (Professional Graduate certificate in Education – Post Compulsory Education Training) qualification to women from ethnic minority. I enrolled, worked hard between childcare and other barriers and I finished my PGCE in May 2014.

“It was a delighted to continue volunteering as an ESOL (English as a second Language) teacher in various refugees drop ins in the city. These skills gave me an advantage that allowed me to get a job immediately I could work legally in the UK. I have now continued to engage with the Ethnic minority community through various training and activities platforms. It is a rewarding opportunity.”

Hannah also chose the two photographs to accompany this article saying : “I have picked these two for a good reason. I love nature and good thing with nature, is that it is present in every country you go. Unless you name the country, you can’t tell. So I’m pleased to associate my experience of Wales with these two photographs. They give me hope and a sense of presence. The sun reminds me of home and sometimes in winter, I forget it is cold when I see the sun. The greenery of Wales is a sign of life and welcome. An amazing combination.”

Here another student, who is studying Computer Science at UWTSD, and who wishes to remain anonymous shares their story:

“I was born in Guinea Bissau and spent my life there until I was forced to leave. I lost both parents when I was very young because of their political activity. I had to leave everything I love and care about behind in search of safety and freedom.

“I came to this country with nothing. No family, no friends, no money and, as an asylum seeker, I had no control over my life.

“When I arrived I was placed in the barracks at Penally, sharing with 5 people in a room during the pandemic. These were hard times, but I felt I had the support of Welsh people and eventually was moved to a house in Swansea.

“The unwavering hospitality and acceptance from the Welsh people have provided me with the sanctuary I desperately sought.

“Despite the challenges of integrating into Welsh society and the language barriers I faced, I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to University of Wales Trinity Saint David to study Computer Science. This has given me hope when life was difficult. The scholarship is a life saver for me. It is providing me with the education I aspired to and has given me the chance to take part in university life. I have made friends. I play football for the university team. I feel I am taking part in Swansea life. None of this would have been possible without the scholarship and the continued support from the University.

“I am filled with a sense of gratitude for the sanctuary Wales has provided me and I am keen to take a positive role in the world I live in. I want to give something back. I have been a class rep; I am on the IET Wales South West network committee; I am on the University of Sanctuary Project Group.

“My journey is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is hope that together we can build a future where compassion and solidarity prevail.”