Read our interview with Rawasia – an amazing teenager who shares with us how she found family in a Community Sponsorship group.
Navigating resettlement as a teenager can be full of extremely difficult challenges, including losing friends, losing your education and losing your home. On top of this, you are contending with starting a new life in a host country you may not feel at home in, or feel wanted in. This has been Rawasia’s experience, one which she has got through by showing courage and resilience, and taking comfort in the small things that she can, such as her art.
In this interview, Rawasia sat down to talk to us about her experience of the hardships she endured as a refugee, and how she overcame them through resettlement and the support of a dedicated Community Sponsorship group.
How did it feel having to leave your home in Syria and relocate to Iraq?
It felt like a big change, quite overwhelming. Everything was different, the language was different, and we really felt the difference in the first month in Iraq. There they speak the Kurdish language. We weren’t living in the Arab section of Iraq, we were living in the Kurdish section, where they didn’t speak any Arabic. It was very, very hard to mix or integrate there. We felt they didn’t like us, we felt unwanted there.
And when I was there, my Kurdish was not good at all. I was always trying to understand but it was difficult. I studied for two years there to understand the language better, but at the beginning it was really hard. The culture was different to what we were used to. For example, they have special festivals that we don’t celebrate. And they wear different clothes in their festivals, different than what we would normally wear.
My education was affected, as the Arabic schools were private, and we had to pay a lot of money to attend. We also had to pay money to take the buses to the school because it was far away. But when I reached year nine there, we couldn’t afford to pay the school fees and so I had to leave school. I was out of school for around a year and half. Another one of my friends also had to leave school. Having to leave school made me feel really bad about myself. And I couldn’t study at home as I didn’t have the school curriculum books, as they were so expensive, so we couldn’t afford them. So, what I would do instead is write stories and draw my art. The kind of stories I would write would be fiction, stories about princesses and fairy tales.
How did you feel when you first heard that you were going to be resettled to the UK?
I couldn’t sleep for three days because I just felt so happy and excited! In my mind, the UK is the best country in the world. I was imagining what my life would be like here, what future I could have here, and the future for my family. I was excited about studying because it’s different here, and the university system is different here. But the main thing for me is that this is a safe place. I feel safe here. In Syria, my school was bombed, and two of my friends were killed in that bombing.
The day we arrived to the UK, we were so hungry and so tired. And then when the group brought us to our home, I saw the food on the table ready for us, and it was Syrian food. I really didn’t know how I could say thank you to the group for something like that. They were such a positive energy in the house, and they helped us stay positive. Even moments when we felt sad, they always helped bring out the best in us. They’ve made me stronger, after everything that’s happened.
You’ve been in the UK for two years now. What have those two years been like?
The two years that we’ve been here have been really, really good. The first month that we were here, that was challenging but only because of the language barrier, but after that everything started to become easier.
When we came to the UK, I didn’t have a father anymore. So, the group made me feel like they were giving me the father figure that I had missed. They were our friends, our family, father, grandmother, grandfather – everything! They’ve been everything here.
At the moment I’m volunteering in a charity shop, and I also volunteer in a youth club with young children. I decided to volunteer because when I needed help there were people to help me. And I feel it’s my turn now to help others who are in need.
How has it been starting a new school?
Starting a new school in the UK was very hard at the beginning because of the language barrier, but it became much easier because of the help I was getting and the people who were so friendly. My teachers really helped me a lot. Whenever I needed help or I didn’t understand an English word that was used, they explained it, they wrote it on the board, and they talked to me about that word.
I’ve made friends who I speak to everyday, friends who I met in year nine here, as I repeated year nine. And one friend, we became best friends after a month of knowing each other. I’m in year ten now, so I’ll be preparing for my GCSE exams soon. At first the thought of GCSE exams made me feel scared, but then I realized it’s not too scary, and I just have to make sure I study extra hours after school and then I’ll be fine. I like studying in the evening and at night as it’s quieter then, so depending on how tired I am, I’ll study for an hour or two before I go to sleep.
In the UK, I feel like I am in my country, like this is my country. Especially because I speak the language here now. Once you get used to the language, this will help to make you feel like you’re in your own country, and you’ll have a feeling of belonging here.
It’s hard but you have to motivate yourself and you have to study, you really have to study. Every day, if you study five words, then your English will get much better in that first year. Even during the time when the pandemic first started, during that time I was at home and school was only through online classes. So, in every single class, I would note down two or three words. And because every single day I was just in the house, I made sure I didn’t get lazy, and I would study every single day. And at the end of the week, I would revise all the words and make sentences with them. And if you do these things, then your English will become much better. In that sense, the pandemic helped to motivate me to study at home.
What are your future goals?
Before I thought I wanted to be a surgeon. But now I feel only 80% that I want to be a surgeon, and 20% that I want to be a pilot! But I think I will decide to be a surgeon in the end.
I want to go to University, maybe Liverpool, Oxford or Cambridge! But to be honest, I like Liverpool because it’s home. And I like the accent here now, it’s gotten much easier to understand. In the first three months here, I noticed how people in Liverpool pronounce the letter ‘r’, and how they say words like ‘where’. But when I visited Manchester, I found the accent there to be harder to understand, so I like Liverpool much more! I really like the Scouse accent, and I like learning the way people in Liverpool speak.
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
To the people who helped me, the Community Sponsorship group, I want to say thank you. Thank you. I thank you from my heart. I really don’t know what I would have done without your help. As I mentioned before, the group are our family here. They’ve especially been a father to us. They’ve been everything for us, including teachers, mentors, healers.
What I would say to other families being resettled to the UK is to not worry. That the first month will be hard but you must study the language, and after that you’ll feel better if you just keep studying.
Thank you very much to Rawasia!