On Saturday 24th October, 20 young people who are involved with Let Us Learn gathered at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for a very inspirational group activity and our first Leadership Academy. Steph from Citizens UK was our tutor, passing on expert information and tips about how to effectively tell our story to new people. Below, Michelle and Kimberly describe the experience.
At first I was extremely hesitant about going to the leadership programme/meet up because I live so far away (an hour and a half from London!) and just thinking about the underground had me hyperventilating. However, I remembered that my ticket would be refunded and that there would be pizza. Also, I had said I would come and I like to keep my word. So I went.
Two wrong buses and a tube ride later I arrived at the beautiful venue. I was really nervous to meet all these new people but also excited. Everyone seemed to already know each other in a way but they were all so friendly and kind.
The leadership programme was run by Stephanie from Citizens UK who she was an amazing speaker. She spoke eloquently and you could tell she was passionate about her job. She told us about her current work with refugees and how she helped organise a thousand people to make a demonstration in front of the houses of parliament.
One of the aims of the programme was to teach us how to take action and to get some results. I can summarise this in a number of steps:
- The first step would be rallying the people and building numbers.
- The second step would be organising some kind of demonstration which will gain media attention.
- This then leads to the next step which is to secure a meeting where you can negotiate what you want.
The best part of the day was when we had to negotiate with each other. It was really funny and hard to stay in character but it was really good practice and made me consider what it would really be like to be in a room full of important people and try to get your way.
The most emotional part of the programme was when we worked on storytelling and everyone practised sharing their own story. We heard some stories that were really emotional. Everyone in that room had been through a lot and they were still so strong and positive. I found this really inspiring.
If I’m honest, before going to the programme and meeting everyone I was feeling very sorry for myself. I’m on my second gap year now and I’m just finding it hard to be positive and find the silver lining. I’ve been really negative and just not my usual self. After meeting everyone, some people who were in worse situations than me and some people who had grabbed their situation by its horns and created their own luck, I felt so silly for being so negative.
I spoke to a girl who wanted to do law like me and she told me about working at Citizens Advice Bureau and how it’s really good work experience. I am now in the process of volunteering with my local Citizen Advice Bureau, and having something to do everyday has really lifted my spirits. Meeting like-minded people and sharing my story was very therapeutic and it was clear that everyone in that room benefitted from it. It was really good for mental strength.
Everyone I met was amazing and hard working and I know they will all be successful in their own right. Anyone who wanted to come but was too scared please come next time – it really may be exactly what you need. I just want to finish this post with my favourite saying:
‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful flower of all’.
We are all going to ‘bloom’ and get through this, and we will be better people for it. So keep being positive and don’t give up on your hopes and dreams.
By Michelle Ezeuko, age 19.
Before coming to my first leadership meeting with Let Us Learn, I did not know what to expect. I was aware that the issues discussed would be centred around the difficulties of accessing higher education due to immigration status. Upon arrival I was late. However, I was warmly welcomed into the group of about twenty young people and I was able to introduce myself and share a little about my own situation. I liked hearing about other people’s experiences and why they seek justice for themselves and for others.
At first, I was nervous and somewhat embarrassed about my situation. However, it was comforting to learn that everyone in the room was going through the same or very similar things, and this encouraged me to share my own story. I think other people felt like this at the beginning as well, but soon everyone was talking easily and one person said, “I can’t talk about this stuff to anyone else. It’s nice to be around other people who understand”.
But we weren’t here just to meet other people. The day contained training on how to manage situations where we feel helpless because we have been denied certain rights, such as access to education, by the government. It was made fun by our tutor, Steph, who introduced a series of role play scenarios which allowed us to take on different perspectives of a negotiation.
The most important thing I believe I learnt was never to accept being told “No”. Yes, it is disappointing in particular situations, such as mine whereby I was classified as an international student by my chosen university, despite having maintained residence in the UK for 8 and a half years. But, because I didn’t accept being told “No” and because I kept negotiating, my chosen university changed their decision and classified me as a home student instead.
Currently I do not receive any student finance. However, after attending the meeting, it has given me more confidence, knowledge and power to continue to challenge ongoing inequalities within the current system. I will definitely be returning to more meetings with the Let Us Learn campaign. Also, as a bonus, there was a lovely free pizza lunch whereby everyone got to be more social and develop friendships 🙂
By Kimberly Garande, age 18.