Friday, December 04, 2009

“The only way forward for me was education”

Guinah Houssein, 23 years old, tells his story of coming to the UK for protection and explains why education means everything to him.

Guinah Houssein

Guinah Houssein

I had to escape my native country Togo and came to the UK for protection. It was very hard for me.

The life I had led in Togo was gone. I know I couldn’t go back. I was 16 and half years old. I then realized that the only way forward for me was education.

I told my social worker that I wanted to go to school. He told me that this wasn’t possible. It was so painful being away from home, without my family and friends. I was crying every day.

One day I walked to the train station. I wanted to jump in front of a train and kill myself.

When I heard the train approaching a million thoughts went through my head. One of them was: “What have I done with my life so far? Maybe there are people who need my help.”

I didn’t jump. The brain is an amazing thing.

A few weeks later I had a review meeting with social services. In the meeting, I told them that my social worker has said that I couldn’t go to school… A few weeks later, I was at college studying English and IT.

I learned fast and soon I was studying together with people born in the UK.

I had only £ 26 per week for food and travel. I also had to manage my budget for pen or papers.

One day I went to apply for EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance). When I showed my home office document to the lady behind the counter, she said that asylum seekers are not entitled to apply.

I think everyone in the room heard her. I felt so ashamed. I went home and cried. I thought that because of a “piece of paper” I was denied my value as a human being.

After I finished my courses, I got a scholarship to study at Atlantic College in Wales.

It was a good time but it was also very hard. During my final exams, I heard that my mother was very ill. I could not concentrate on my exams. I didn’t do as well as I had hoped.

But I still got a place at Westminster University to read politics. I want to study politics because I want to fight against injustice. I have a talent for giving great and inspirational speeches. Everyone thinks that I have chosen the right degree.

I am in my final year now. I would like to go on to do a masters degree and then pursue a career in conflict resolution and diplomacy.

One day, when it is safe for me to do so, I want to go back to Togo and help to build a better country.

I like studying at university. Education is everything for me. I would never give it up.

Message to STAR members

The Equal Access campaign is brilliant because it can achieve real change.

I have been granted refugee status so I do not have to pay international student fees. For those asylum seeking students who have to pay the fees this could stop them from attending university altogether.

Education is the one single thing everyone should fight for.

We should fight for our right to education but also fight for others to have the same rights as we do.

Background about Guinah

Read Guinah’s account of why he was forced to leave, the problems he faced in Togo, and how the speech he gave at the STAR National Conference 2004 resulted in a study offer at the Atlantic college in Glamorgan.

Equal Access campaign

People seeking asylum are not allowed to work in the UK. They cannot access student loans and are not eligible for most grants. Yet they may live in the UK for many months or years with no decision on their claim.

To ensure asylum seekers have equal access to higher education universities should allow them to pay ‘home’ tution fees.

STAR’s Equal Access campaign

Join STAR’s Equal Access campaign and lobby your university so that more people like Guinah can continue their education.

Posted by STAR team on 04/12/2009 at 01:38 PM