Tuesday, August 16, 2016

“Don’t just be angry – do something about it!”

Juliana from Reading STAR talks about the power students have to make change…

In the summer of 2015, when the press provided reports about the refugee crisis at an hourly rate, each more terrible than the last, I became a very angry person. I became angry at the press for demonising innocent people that are fleeing from the horrors of war and terror. I became angry at governments all over the world for turning their backs on to these people, justifying their (non-) actions by saying it was ‘not their problem’. I also became angry at myself for being stuck in the helpless situation of a student, who had no financial or influential means to improve the situation for anyone. Or so I thought…

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If you don’t act nothing will change

Watching the news every day or even just glancing at the news notifications that pop up on your phone, gives the impression that all of this, the refugee crisis, the horrors of being removed from your home, family and friends, is far removed from us in the UK. We tend to forget that there are refugees right here among us. So even if you feel helpless because you can’t go to Calais or Greece and hand out hot soup to the people you are seeing on the television that does not mean that you cannot lend a helping hand to someone here. There are lots of refugees in the UK who need your help, whether it is to practice their English or to hand out tinned food and warm jumpers. You can be angry all you want at the government, but the fact is, if you do not act on your feelings, nothing will change.

Just before heading back to Reading University in September, I got in touch with Student Action for Refugees. I had remembered the charity from my first year at university, when I had got sporadically involved with the society on campus. After contacting the students union I was stunned to hear that STAR as it were, did not exist on our campus anymore. After no more than two phone calls the head office in London set me up with resources and instructions of how to restart Reading STAR. It was easy and it was definitely worth it!

Reading STAR reborn!

Now, a year later, I am sat in the head office of STAR and typing these lines. Our little STAR group that was born again less than a year ago now has six committee members and a loyal fellowship that attends regular events. We are still growing but we’ve been busy! We have collected bags full of clothes and food that were shipped off to Calais just before Christmas. We held awareness events to make sure other student on campus knew about the refugee crisis, such as a candlelit vigil to remember the refugees who have died trying to reach Europe that (despite the rain and dreadful cold) were well attended. With an ever-growing presence on campus, we are planning to expand further in the next academic year and add volunteering events to our schedule.

Since I started to get involved with STAR, my schedule has got a lot busier, as I have also started to volunteer for other refugee centres and charities in the wider London area. I met people I would never have encountered otherwise and made friends. The most rewarding and exciting activity of all has got to be teaching ESOL classes to refugees every Monday. These are not ESOL classes in the traditional sense but lessons with fun activities to enhance people’s confidence to speak in English and to broaden their vocabulary. No hour passes without the whole group erupting into laughter.

I have met many people whose lives were turned upside down when they had to leave their home country. All of them possessed admirable courage and a thirst for life that is impossible to match. Their stories and their strength is what motivates me to keep working to help these people back on their feet – and those in years to come.

Posted by STAR team on 16/08/2016 at 03:10 PM