Different Past: Shared Futures Award
Chawan Ali had to flee Iraq in 2015 with her parents and three younger brothers to find safety after years of fighting. The threat of ISIS meant her family was scared for their future.
With limited English and sporadic schooling in her own country, the then 16-year-old, had to fight for refugee status, while trying to settle into a new life in Wrexham.
She said: “I was so scared; I remember walking through the halls of the school not knowing what was going on. I would only answer yes or no but I really didn’t understand anything. In a hall full of hundreds of students, I had never felt so alone.”
Chawan enrolled on an Entry 2 English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course, which she says opened a lot of doors.
Without GCSEs Chawan went on to complete a Kickstart course at Coleg Cambria and is currently studying Level 2 Health and Social care and Level 2 in ESOL. She hopes to sit her exams and continue onto her Level 3 course in Health and Social Care with dreams of becoming a midwife.
As the only person in her house who speaks English, Chawan, who looks after her mum who suffers with several long-term medical conditions, helps her family with appointments, bank forms and translating documents from her brother’s school.
As well as working at a care home and attending college, she also helps other asylum seekers in Wales and is fighting for policy change so that people like her have a better experience not only in Wrexham but Wales as a whole.
The member of the Wrexham Refugee and Asylum Seeker community Chawan runs drop-in sessions at Wrexham Methodist Church and also campaigns in the local area.
She said: “Gaining qualifications has changed my life, I have a future now – something which I have dreamed about for years.
“I keep working because I want to make a difference. Not only for me but for others in a similar situation.”
“From a time when all I could say was one-word answers to talking at the Senedd I have found my voice.”
Chawan said: “I am now safe and supported, with the same opportunities most young people have and I am so thankful. I continue to work hard to be the strong woman for my family.
“When people hear my story, I want to tell them to never give up. I want to tell them not to let the bad experiences in your life stop you moving forward, with hard work you can fight for your life and those of others.”
Lianne Walley, ESOL tutor at Coleg Cambria said; “Chawan is truly inspirational. Through her involvement with the VOICES network, an independent group of asylum seekers and refugees who self-advocate to raise awareness and positive change, Chawan has spoken at the Senedd representing those in similar situations.
She is working towards making her life worthwhile for her family’s life to be safer and more comfortable and for Wales to be a friendlier and more welcoming place to live and thrive.
“Chawan will continue with her studies and her role in The Sanctuary Movement ensuring that her voice and work is one to look out for in the future.”