DMU students support pioneering refugee project

Students are helping to transform lives by volunteering with a charity set up to support unaccompanied young refugees and asylum seekers.

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After 18, based in St Martin’s House, Leicester, helps children who left war or unrest in their home country to flee to the UK alone, leaving behind their family and friends. The charity works with them one to one to help them make the transition into adulthood, helping them plan for the future.

Many are keen to go on to university study or gain qualifications and the team at After 18 led by manager Alison Birch help achieve their ambitions. University lecturers, sixth form teachers, PhD students and undergraduates volunteer their time every Wednesday evening to help them.

A team of students from DMU Square Mile, which works to share the skills of students and staff with the community, have been working with After 18 to help provide one to one support.

Business and Law student Alice Rose Davis, from Birmingham, helps students aiming to study in the UK to decipher complex forms and paperwork to apply. She’s become an expert at UCAS personal statements, finance and scholarship information.

 She said: “The stigma attached to refugees and asylum seekers is one of my pet peeves. People do not realise how difficult it is. There’s a lot of myths about people ‘coming here to claim benefits’. It’s nonsense.

“I have seen more drive and aspiration in here that I have seen in college back home in Birmingham. This is what people don’t know and don’t see. Two hours of my time on a Wednesday afternoon is nothing - I’m really happy to help. They do not have parents an neither do I and we’re about the same age so I can relate a little bit as I’ve had to do a lot for myself.”

Accounting and Finance student Alan Loyallaleon puts his degree skills to use teaching basic maths for those hoping to take GCSEs. “Often teachers do not have the time to give the support so by coming here they can have extra help and even though they may not have done the maths before, all the young people I’ve worked with pick it up very quickly.

“My mum came to the UK when there was civil war in Sri Lanka. She was told to leave, came to the UK in London and then to Birmingham I’ve been able to see a little bit of her experience in the people here.”

* How DMU Square Mile India has provided incredible experiences for students
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* Student volunteers tell how DMU Square Mile has changed their lives

Manager Alison Birch started the charity with funding from Comic Relief and has volunteers from DMU, Leicester University and school staff from the city and county.

She said: “Many young people arrive at 16 or 17 and straight away they are into GCSEs and need additional support to catch up.
“We have experienced academics and teachers who give their time to help every week.”

The teaching space in St Martin’s House is packed every week with unaccompanied refugee students. Word of mouth means they are always busy, says Alison.

After 18 has had plenty of success stories – one young person supported through their GCSEs gained As and A*s, while another is now in his second year at Liverpool University, gaining a First in aeronautics.

“It’s making sure they get these opportunities, that they can fulfil their potential,” said Alison. “Having somewhere to come like this, where you can find out about opportunities and gain support, makes a huge difference.”
Posted on Monday 11th April 2016

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