It’s Freshers’ week! The first week of university for thousands of young people up and down the country. Friendships are formed. Futures begun. (And hangovers dealt with!)
Among those wide-eyed and expectant students facing down this first week of university are some of our clients. As survivors of modern slavery, this isn’t just the next step in their education. It’s a chance to start over – to rebuild and restore a life snatched away from them. A chance for them to truly spread their wings and fly.
Beth* is from Cameroon. One of five children, Beth dreamed of becoming a doctor but her parents couldn’t afford the fees for medical school so she attended a public school to read Biochemistry instead. Disastrously, Beth was falsely accused of stealing money and was sent to prison where she faced sexual and other physical abuse and was offered no legal or medical support. After several months her uncle discovered that she was wrongfully imprisoned and successfully negotiated her release.
However, already severely traumatised, Beth was then trafficked to the UK and forced into prostitution. After months of exploitation, Beth managed to escape and was found by the police. She was then transferred to one of our safe houses to help her recovery process.
Beth never lost her love of medicine. While in our safe house she completed numerous free, online courses to refresh her knowledge and skills and continues to read about basic anatomy and physiology. Beth also completed a number of self-confidence and mental health classes, as well as learning about entrepreneurship and improving her English speaking and writing skills.
We were all utterly thrilled when Beth announced that she had successfully secured a university place to study foundation medicine in the UK. Her caseworker found a funding pot for her with the ‘Compass Project’ which helps asylum seekers access higher education. After a very competitive application process, Beth was accepted and given full funding. This has been a huge boost for her and has kept alive her desire to study medicine!
Gina* is from Ghana. When she was 15 years old her mother died and her aunt brought her to the UK. A modern-day Cinderella, Gina was treated badly for years and forced to do all the housework before her aunt threw her out onto the streets. Since then, Gina lived in hostels and temporary housing before finally being referred into the National Referral Mechanism (the official government system for identifying and supporting victims of human trafficking and modern slavery) and arriving at one of our safe houses.
Through all this, Gina managed to complete her GCSEs and A-levels and longed to become an accountant. Last year she completed Levels 1 and 2 of her accounting qualifications and hopes to complete Level 3 this year.
Despite all the trauma and difficulties she faces, Gina has shown huge dedication with her studies – going to the college library every day! – which is having a positive impact on her wellbeing and recovery. But funding is an issue for Gina as the government will only pay for Levels 1 and 2.
Our team are pulling out all the stops. As Gina’s immigration status is currently unconfirmed it is unlikely that she will qualify for a loan from student finance this year, although we will do everything we can to try to access this in case they can make an exception. We are also looking into any other possible sources of funding as completing this course is extremely important for Gina’s future and recovery.
*Names changed to protect their identities