“I was shy and scared… I never thought I could even say my name into a mic… but I’ve changed a lot,” says Mirfat, 18, of Erdington
A Somali teenager has spoken out about being supported in Birmingham to overcome her trauma in a bid to inspire other young refugees on International Women’s Day.
In 2017, conflict forced Mirfat to leave behind everything she knew at the age of 16 and seek safety in the UK. Over a year later, a Birmingham project called Surviving to Thriving has helped Mirfat to make a film to address her experiences and build the confidence to thrive in her new community.
She recalls: “Arriving in the UK it felt different and scary. I thought ‘no way can I survive here’. It was such a horrible experience to go through when you’re young.
“I felt lonely, I couldn’t sleep or eat. All I wanted was my mum and my family. I just wanted to go home.”
Mirfat was feeling very low and struggling to connect with other people when she heard about the Surviving to Thriving project, a partnership between charities UpRising, British Red Cross and Refugee Council.
Through support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the project has provided over 236 vulnerable children and teenagers in Birmingham with the life and leadership skills, advice, and mental health support to rebuild their lives and thrive.
Mirfat says: “Surviving to Thriving gives young people the opportunity and motivation to think that it doesn’t matter how you look or what your refugee status is —you can do anything in your life.
“The project helps you to make more friends, build your confidence and improve your English because we don’t have family, we don’t know anyone. It gives you hope because most of us who come here we have no hope.”
Through UpRising’s programme, participants create a film exploring their experiences, taking up the roles of actor, script-writer, director, and film-maker to represent the perceptions and challenges they face as young displaced people in the UK.
For Mirfat, making the film was a turning point in her life.
She says: “I never thought I could stand in front of people on stage and say even my name into a mic. I’ve changed a lot. I was shy and scared and frightened but I started to build my confidence.”
At a special screening event held at the Rich Mix cinema in London’s Shoreditch area on Thursday evening, Mirfat presented ‘Dreams’, the film she had helped work on. In it, she shares her aspirations, seeing the strength of women in the UK inspired her to think big for the future.
Mirfat says: “I wanted to give that message in the film because in my country if you’re a woman or a girl you can’t work. I see that women here have power so that gives me motivation and confidence.”
Through the project, Mirfat has also been able to bring her experiences in front of figures able to influence changes, big and small, to impact the lives of young displaced people for the better. In February, she joined a presentation at Parliament and spoke to MPs Catherine West and Christine Jardine about the right to work for people seeking asylum.
This International Women’s Day, Mirfat wants the experiences of young female refugees and people seeking asylum to be recognised as a source of strength.
She says: “If any girl has been through the experience of coming to the UK alone then she’s brave. She has a stronger mind than anyone.
“I want to show that women can do anything. I wasn’t always confident — I am now. The sky’s the limit for me.”
Kalyani McCarthy, Surviving to Thriving project manager, says: “It’s hard to be an adult when you haven’t had the chance to be a child.
“We’re so pleased to see how the right support can help these young people become thriving members of their new communities and use their experiences as a force for positive change.”
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