“I’m happy,” says Tayba. “My children are doing well. I also have friends I can talk to.” A mother of 8, Tayba is a refugee who, with her family escaped persecution in Kuwait. When I first met her at my office at Action West London, Tayba was a completely different person. Quiet, withdrawn almost, Tayba relied on her oldest son to interpret for her.
Tayba needed a lot of support. Her children had to be placed in schools, benefits sorted out, English classes arranged…
Remarkably, no one in her family had had any formal education prior to arriving in the UK. Tayba and her family are members of the Bidoon people – a group originating from nomadic tribes native to the Arabian peninsula. The Bidoon are categorised as stateless and illegal in Kuwait and thus denied basic rights including access to education. Tayba did her best to educate her 8 children at home and with some success. Two of her daughters have a ‘knack’ for music (one plays the piano and the other sings) and all can read and write albeit in Arabic.
But nothing can replace mainstream education.
Arriving in the UK allowed Tayba and her family to enjoy the rights and freedoms that we take for granted but she and millions of people around the world have been denied. Safety and education for her children were Tayba’s top priorities.
The UN Refugee Agency states that 18,519 people were offered protection in the UK in the year June 2018 – June 2019. Of these, 25% (or 4,563) were children.
Like Tayba, a large number of refugees need support when they arrive in the UK. Language is often the main barrier for many when it comes to accessing services. Some will seek and receive help from friends or family but many will ultimately contact organisations like Action West London. In Tayba’s case it was her oldest son who introduced her to us. Having done an ESOL course with us before, he was also able to provide basic interpreting for her.
“It was a disaster before Action West London” Tayba reminisced. “They provided all the help! Marcin helped a lot with my English and Maryam with benefits and applications.”
Tayba has made good progress since joining the programme. The help she has received from Action West London was all she needed to start to put her life in order. Her hardworking nature, positive personality and the desire to make a new start, took care of the rest.
At 55, Tayba is full of youthful vigour and not thinking of slowing down any time soon, not that this is an option for a mother of 8 anyway! But Tayba has her eyes set firmly on the future. She recognises that the route to independence in her new home is through better English skills and learning to drive (getting a driving licence has long been her dream).
She has also been supporting her daughter’s ambition to design and make clothes. A skilled seamstress, Tayba has been making clothes her daughter has designed. They have plans to set up a Facebook page and start showcasing their pieces. She doesn’t know what will happen next – nobody does – she’s just grateful for this opportunity!
About the author
Marcin Lewandowski is Head of Learning at Action West London and a Fellow of Society for Education and Training. He manages the Working West London Project which helps refugees gain employment and build their careers based on their existing skills. The project aims to make a substantial difference to participants’ lives, by helping them obtain employment, gain a sense of confidence and feel recognition for their contribution to the work market.
Marcin has previously conducted and published research into online course delivery and was one of the winners of Cambridge University Press Teacher Research Programme. He is currently pursuing a PhD at Sunderland University as part of the ETF Research Development Fellowship (RDF) Programme.