Birmingham support programme inspires refugee

Young refugee ‘gives back’ by volunteering with charity project.

A 17-year-old refugee from Sudan has decided to take up volunteering to return the kindness he was shown by a charity project assisting young refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham.

Max is among 118 young refugees and people seeking asylum who are being supported in the city through Surviving to Thriving, a partnership between British Red Cross, the Refugee Council and UpRising. Through support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the project is reaching vulnerable children and teenagers who have fled conflict, persecution and torture and have arrived, alone, in the UK.

In 2013, violence forced Max to leave behind his family and home in Darfur, western Sudan, and endure a two-year journey from Libya to the UK. Speaking at a Refugee Week celebration evening at The Studio centre on Tuesday 19th June, Max explained how the Surviving to Thriving project helped him understand his rights, develop life and leadership skills, improve his English and settle into his new community in Birmingham.

Max says: “When I arrived in the UK I didn’t feel confident. I didn’t speak English and I didn’t understand anything when someone spoke to me. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t talk to anyone, but now I feel good. I pushed myself and the Surviving to Thriving project helped a lot with that. I’ve learned so much.

“Now I’m a volunteer with Surviving to Thriving and I help other refugees like me. I talk to them and give them advice, and I’m there to help them if they have a problem in their heart.”

In honour of Refugee Week, the event was an opportunity for Max and other 16-25 year olds from the project to showcase short films they made to highlight challenges faced by young refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, including homelessness, isolation and a lack of education. The issue of child homelessness is of particular significance to Max, who slept at New Street station when he first arrived.

He said: “It was good making the film because if you’re a homeless child you don’t know what to do. Coming to this country for the first time, you don’t know anything, you don’t know anyone and you need to know how to get support.”

Max has been involved in making six films through Surviving to Thriving and, as a volunteer, he now helps guide other young people in similar situations through the film-making process.

He added: “It’s important for me to keep busy or I feel I’m losing my time. I want to be a police officer like my grandfather in Sudan. He died many years ago so I didn’t meet him but I have a picture of him in his uniform I keep with me. People helped me when I came here so I want to give some help back.”

UpRising’s Chief Executive, Lucy Caldicott, said: “We are so proud of Max and all of the amazing young people that Surviving to Thriving works with who have been so open about the challenges and traumas they’ve faced to raise awareness of the day-to-day reality of refugee experiences.

“It’s fantastic to see how the power of kindness has inspired Max to change his harrowing story into a force for good and give other vulnerable young refugees and asylum seekers a listening ear, a helping hand and a friendly face.”

Max added: “My future looks good now. I know what way I can go and I feel there’s something in my future. My mum always said to me if you work hard you fly high. Now anything I do, I think about that. I want to volunteer all my life and any time someone needs something I want to be there to help them. I know I have something more to give in life.”

To find out more about Surviving to Thriving visit here and for the Peoples Postcode Lottery here