Michael & Faduma

Faduma left Somalia in her late 20s as a refugee of the civil war. Her father worked for the government in Somalia and her mother was a university lecturer. As a result of the civil war, Faduma and her family were forced to leave their beautiful big house and wealthy, upper classed lifestyle to live in a refugee camp across the border in Kenya for four years in a cramped tent with no electricity and where their daily food consisted of basic snack rations.

Eventually she came to the UK because she was afraid and in search of peace. But she came here alone, her mother and father remained in Kenya and her sister fled to America. After one year she gained her status so she could stay in the UK and apply for work but even after hundreds of applications Faduma was constantly declined because of lack of experience and because she “wasn’t right for the job”.

Through an advocacy course that she took with Education Action International, Faduma heard about the Time Together project, a scheme run by the charity TimeBank that matches refugees with a mentor to help them to adapt to UK life.

She signed up, began her training and was soon matched with Michael Stephenson, the general secretary for the Cooperative Party, from London, who supported and worked with her to achieve her personal goals – for Faduma, ultimately it was to find a job.

After some initial meetings and lots of talking, Michael and Faduma decided that her first step was to educate herself. Michael supported her by helping her to apply for education courses, helping her with assignments, how to write a CV and teaching her how to deal with government bureaucracy.

Michael says, “Through meeting and working with Faduma I learnt not only about the plight of refugees in Somalia but also about the difficulties they face here in London. It’s extremely difficult for refugees to access the services that we as native Britons take for granted. Things like work and education are almost impossible for them to find. As a British citizen I knew I could help.”

Eventually, Faduma got accepted to a Development Studies course at Birkbeck College, University of London, which she successfully completed after a year. She then got a job as a recruitment officer on the Time Together programme where her role was to recruit other refugees in need of support.

After this she worked part time as a researcher for the Employability Forum, an independent organisation that promotes the employment of refugees and the integration of migrant workers in the UK.

In 2007, Faduma won a fellowship from the Rayne Foundation which aims to build bridges between refugees and the UK mainstream. Through them, she became an intern with Karen Buck MP and got vital work experience working in her office and attending weekly surgeries with constituents. This gave her an extraordinary opportunity to become even more integrated into British society.

To further her work to support refugees, Faduma is now a Director of a local Somalian community organisation in West Kensington called the Minaret Centre. There, she supports other Somalian people in a similar way to the support she was offered by her Time Together mentor. The projects the centre delivers involve career advice, work shadowing placements with nurses and teachers, English classes, local government lobbying and general recreational activities.

TimeBank has helped Faduma with developing her charity too. Faduma found out about another of TimeBank’s mentoring projects, Leaders Together, which matches professional people from the UK with leaders of refugee community organisations to share their own professional experience and support them with specific work-related goals.  With 12 years fundraising experience, Gerri Mchugh, Faduma’s mentor, whose previous roles include  Head of Fundraising at the British Lung Foundation and Director at the Royal College of Vetinary Surgeons Trust, has supported Faduma to register The Minaret Centre as a charity. Next steps are to work together to kick-start fundraising and income generation.

Faduma says,

“If it wasn’t for Michael and his dedicated support for me through the Time Together project, I would not be where I am today. Not only did Michael educate me about the British way of life and help me develop the skills and confidence to succeed in a job here but he gave me a whole new life – thanks to him, I have a wonderful set of British friends, he’s godfather to my little boy, a shoulder to lean on and he’s become a lifelong friend.

I’ve been mentored in a professional way too with Gerry, who has now become a good friend of mine too sharing her amazing expertise and knowledge of the charity sector so I can help other Somalian people adapt to British life also. Time Together and Leaders Together encourages bridge building between local British people and refugees so that they are able to fully understand each others cultures and ultimately so that refugees can adapt and integrate into the British mainstream. But I don’t want to cross the bridge alone, I want to take a handful of Somalians with me – with the help of Gerry to support me to develop and sustain the work we do at the Minaret Centre, I’m able to help lots of other Somalian people cross that bridge with me.”