City born and bred, Leena Travadi is proud to call Leicester home. Just like tens of thousands of others, she has been raised here, schooled here, got married here and works here, while surrounded by a supportive family.
But the story behind how Leena - a Senior Inquiries Officer in the DMU Marketing Team - came to be raised in Leicester goes back 50 years to Uganda, East Africa, during Idi Amin’s so-called ‘economic war’.
Leena's aunt (right) and family before fleeing Uganda
The dictator had taken over Uganda in a military coup in 1971. Eighteen months later, in August 1972, he issued a decree ordering the expulsion of all Asians from the country.
Many owned businesses and employed thousands of Ugandans – Asian and African - but 80,000 UGandan Asians were given 90 days to leave behind their homes, their businesses, their communities and their country before everything was handed over to Amin’s supporters.
As British passport holders, Leena’s Mum and Dad , Shobhna and Ramesh Kataria, had to make the journey from Kampala to Entebbe Airport and on to Heathrow.
Shobhna was pregnant with Leena at the time and to say the couple were scared is an understatement. There were stories circulating about Idi Amin’s military guards randomly shooting Asians and of women being assaulted as they travelled through various checkpoints to the airport.
Then there was the worry about making a life in the UK and ensuring their child would have opportunities in a new country.
They left their home for the last time carrying a small suitcase containing two pairs of clothes and their legal documents.
After landing in Heathrow they made the coach journey to Leicester and settled in a home off Narborough Road. The community were welcoming and Leena’s parents were hugely grateful for what they had.
Two of Leena's cousins in the foregorund of this picture in Uganda
Leena said: “My parents say the local people as well as social services were fantastic.
“They gave them clothes as well as a pushchair and a cot for me as a new born. My parents had family who were also Ugandan refugees living with them.
“They were renting one room between six people but they were grateful for it – even though the room had no heating and only cold water for washing in. The main thing was they were safe.”
Within three days of arriving in Leicester, Leena’s dad Ramesh found work in the Equity Shoes factory on the road running parallel to the Narborough Road and her mum Shobhna joined him there just three months later. The Equity Shoes factory, a major city employer, closed in 2008 and is now private student accommodation run by CODE.
While her parents and other family who fled Uganda worked in various factories, Leena and seven other cousins, aged from birth to five, were looked after by an aunt.
Leena said: “Both my parents had been well educated in Uganda but their qualifications were not recognised in the UK. They needed to earn a living so they were happy to accept whatever work was going.”
There is an exhibition at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery
Leena says she is incredibly proud of her parents – her Dad went on to become a teacher and her Mum remained at Equity until it closed - and the opportunities they created for her.
“It has also made me so proud to say I am a British Asian,” Leena added. “I am grateful for the opportunities and the ambitions I have realised.
“Leicester and the UK has made me a strong individual and I am not sure this would have been the case had mum and dad decided to move to another country.
“For my parents Leicester is home, and although Africa was their birth country they see Leicester as the place which gave their children a platform for a future.
“My parents like the balance of Leicester, with the Golden Mile where they can buy ethnic foods, two universities and a fabulous city centre.
“Importantly they have given back to the community they feel helped them in their hour of need."
Leena's parents continue to give back to the community that helped them at a time of need. Her father has volunteered, since his retirement, for Age Concern for the past 10 years and her mum takes a monthly donation of tea and biscuits to Leicester Royal infirmary.
• As we mark 50 years of the Ugandan Asian’s exodus, and the contributions they and their families have made to our city, we are keen to speak to more DMU staff, students and alumni about theirs, and their families’, recollections of the journey from 1972 to 2022. If you would like to see your family story on the DMU website then please send your name, connection to DMU and contact details to email@example.com and we will get in touch.
Posted on Thursday 28th July 2022