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'We can't thank you enough,' young refugees sing the praises of DMU volunteers

Volunteers from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) are transforming the lives of unaccompanied young refugees by helping them to plan for their future.

Students and staff give up their time to help Leicester’s young refugees who left war or unrest in their home country to flee to the UK alone, leaving behind family and friends.

After18 art exhibition.WEB

They work with the After18 charity to tutor refugees in Maths, Science and English, as well as teaching them new skills. The aim is to help them gain qualifications as they make the transition into adulthood.

Refugees and volunteers got a chance to thank one another for the pioneering project as they came together to celebrate the charity’s fifth anniversary on Thursday, 19 April.

The event on the Vijay Patel Roof Terrace included an exhibition of work from the charity’s art programme, which gives refugees a safe space to express themselves and distract themselves from their previous experiences.   

It was also part of a day of activities to highlight DMU’s involvement in the UN Together campaign to develop a positive attitude to migration.

One 16-year-old Iranian refugee told how he could not speak a word of English when he came to England 2.5 years ago. He lived in London and Birmingham, before moving to Leicester.

He said: “These people have helped me so much, they have been there for me in so many different ways. They have helped me with my learning and taught me new hobbies.

“When you arrive in a new city you don’t know much, but the volunteers have showed me the way.”

Several young refugees spoke at the event to thank volunteers for tutoring them, getting them through their GCSEs and for simply being there for them. One teenage girl said: “Whatever we say, we cannot thank these people enough.”

After18 art exhibition 1.WEB

A team of students from DMU Square Mile, which works to share the skills of students and staff with the community, work with After18 providing one to one support on a weekly basis.

Sotiris Karoulla, a third-year Psychology student, has been tutoring the refugees one evening a week for 15 months.

The 21-year-old said: “It’s been an amazing experience to contribute to society in this way.

“It’s been so rewarding as these are young people who really want to work with me. They are very focused on wanting to learn.

“It’s refreshing to see how determined they are to get the grades. This pushes me to better myself and to be more motivated. It makes me want to follow their lead and be as passionate as them about learning.”

After18 art exhibition2 WEB

James Chantry of Charnwood Arts and a DMU MA Fine Art student, has hosted a range of workshops to encourage interest in various art forms, including photography, painting, puppetry and filmmaking.

He said: “Art gives the young people a platform to be creative. It gives them a voice; they are able to express themselves and most of all they can have fun.

“The young people have produced some amazing work. They are expressing themselves in a very beautiful and professional way.

“Most of the time these young people are thinking about very negative things. Spending their time being artistic means they have a break, it takes their mind off things.”

He added: “I’ve learnt so much from them. I get as much out of it as they do.”

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Alison Birch, manager of After18, said they had worked with more than 200 young people over the last five years. She said volunteers showed an incredible amount of dedication and went above and beyond to make a difference.

Alison said: “We work with young people to help them make the transition into adulthood and plan for the future. They need somewhere to turn to for help and advice, and we are here to keep them focused and offer them solutions.

“This is the age when young people should be laying foundations for life but being in the asylum system, everything is on hold. This can be devastating for young people.”

The anniversary event also included a presentation of certificates for young refugees who had learnt to swim during lessons at DMU’s Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Leisure Centre. Being able to swim has given the young people a huge boost in confidence, as well as an important life skill.

Posted on Wednesday 25th April 2018

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