Thursday, August 18, 2016

“I want to inspire people the same way STAR inspired me!”

Want to get involved with STAR? See how our Student Network Coordinator, Maddy, got involved, and why not contact her to find out how you can do the same?

I first heard of STAR when my friend decided to start a group in Exeter. I helped her out from time to time, but mostly because she was a friend – the problem of refugees and asylum seekers seemed distant and vague, and I didn’t really understand how I could make an impact, or even why I should…

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Getting involved

The following year was my final year of university, and when I had the sudden realisation that my CV was lacking in anything of depth, I asked my friend if I could squeeze onto the committee. Luckily they were looking for a Publicity Coordinator, and so I was enlisted straight away to advertise and promote events. I hadn’t really got involved in much on campus before never but being given this role felt like a massive turning point. I was really grateful they had given me this responsibility, and really wanted to do a good job.

It was at my first STAR conference that I started to see how important its message was. We listened to some speakers who had gone through painful and traumatic experiences, and yet the event was uplifting and promising as STAR was showing us how we could make a difference in these people’s lives. It was so inspiring that I queued up at the end to speak to Emma, the Chief Executive, about working with STAR, not knowing that’s exactly where I would end up.

My first experience of meeting refugees happened through volunteering to teach English. It was just a small group of women who were mostly from Afghanistan. I was amazed at how much we made each other laugh even though we could only communicate with simple words, and the bonds we formed were really special. I was starting to see how rewarding it could be to help other people; it costs nothing and yet can dramatically change someone’s life. The experience led me to seek out many more volunteering opportunities in the years that followed.
After graduating, I decided to spend a year in Portugal before doing my Master’s. It was as the year came to an end that the refugee crisis started to become a global media phenomenon, and for the first time it felt helping refugees was no longer a niche interest but a worldwide movement. This was evident at a “Refugees Welcome Here” march I went to in Vienna; seeing so many people marching about the same cause I felt so passionate about was incredibly moving.

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Starting my own group

Then it was back to the UK to start my MA at the University of Surrey. Realising they didn’t have a STAR group on campus, I decided to set one up myself. I really wanted people to see that universities are an amazing platform for discussing these issues, and hoped that the group would change people’s lives in the way it had mine. Overall it was an incredible experience, crowned by the fact that in just one year, we managed to get Surrey to create bursaries for asylum seekers through our Equal Access campaigning which was a huge success!

And all this has led to me getting my first job with STAR! I’m writing this now from the office in London, and I feel so lucky to be part of an organisation that brings about long-term change by spreading positive attitudes and messages of tolerance through universities across the country. I felt really empowered by STAR when I was at university, and it feels amazing to now be able to empower others in the same way.

Want to get involved? Get in touch with me here.

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Posted by STAR team on 18/08/2016 at 11:12 AM