31 August 2020

Churchill Fellowship – an investment of a lifetime – glad I did it

About 6 years ago, I was keen to have a purposeful travel, study, have some good time, come back, reflect, and use my learning to better myself and my contribution to society. Although I was keen to do all these, I didn’t know how.  I also didn’t have enough resources. As I did some research online, I came across the Churchill Fellowship, the criteria of which I fully met. Hence, I decided to try it. I thought it was better to try and fail than to regret of not having done it. I hence put in my first application in 2014 which was not successful. Although I didn’t make it the first time around, I didn’t lose hope. I used it as an opportunity to learn. I thus decided to wait for some time and try again after organising myself and my application better than the first time around.

In May 2017, I was in the USA doing a short course on leadership in a program entitled the ‘Global Change Agents’ at Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University when I received an email from Neil Jameson CBE, the then Executive Director of Citizens UK, encouraging staff members to apply for the fellowship. Neil knows better than most of us about the fellowship as he himself was a fellow in 1977 which helped him to travel to the USA, meet veteran Community Organisers, reflect on Community Organising in the USA and consequently sow the seeds for Community Organising in the UK where he established Citizens UK in 1989. That email from Neil ignited fire in my belly. It encouraged me to rethink and try Churchill Fellowship again. I flagged the email and waited for some time. This time around, I was more purposeful, focused and knew where to concentrate on and why. Luckily, I even know good colleagues who had succeeded with their fellowship, who all advised me to give it a try. I knew what I was going to do if I succeeded. By the time I was about to put in my application,  I was highly involved in Refugees Welcome movement in the United Kingdom and my fellowship was how I could strengthen my understanding of the sector. I organised my application better than the first time around and submitted it in good time

After I had submitted my application, I kept doing some research on what to do, who to meet and when to travel hoping that I would succeed this time around. It was a good dream to dream; hope to hope and aspirations to aspire. Asking myself what if I was awarded? What could I do? Yes, it all paid off. When I got that email from Winston Churchill Memorial Trust notifying me that I was successful, I had the most emotional moment. Cries with emotions. Smiles in the streets. Yes I did it. Although I was preparing myself for the good news, it was still unbelievable. I had in the past been awarded fellowships, but the emotional feeling this time was different. I had, however, to wait for some time to make the news public as per the conditions attached. As a social media enthusiast and keen to share these sort of news to friends and allies, the wait until the embargo was lifted was challenging, but something all fellows had to deal with.

My Churchill Fellowship took me to Canada to study about its decades long Refugee Sponsorship program.  As my fellowship was more focused and around my job responsibilities and interests, the contribution of the fellowship was enormous. The fellowship equipped me with what I needed to know about the Refugee Sponsorship scheme. To see why Canada’s refugee sponsorship program is successful and what we could bring over to the UK and see how we could use the learning to better our Community Sponsorship program. I am now at stage where I can use my Churchill Fellowship learning and my lived experiences to contribute in the Refugee Welcome movement. I was once an asylum seeker, a detainee and had gone through many challenges in my journeys to sanctuary, but the learning in these journeys were instrumental. Hope and perseverance have taken me so far.  I am now director of UK Welcomes Refugees, which is all about Building Community Sponsorship of Refugees Together with others. Lots of credit to my Churchill Fellowship. Glad I did it. It was indeed a blessing.

Please find my Churchill Fellowship report, HERE

11 August 2020

It is compassion and safe routes that is needed more

As our TV screens, newspapers and social media outlets bring more and more atrocious news about the worsening refugee crisis, there is a natural call for us to do the decent thing whilst we are still able to do so. All we need is compassion and safe routes, not dehumanising of fellow humans. After all these people are the most vulnerable in our collective human family and deserve our love, empathy, and care as they have already been through lots of hardships.

The desperation of people on the move and their travels through extremely risky situations is a stark reminder that people will take any risk to go out of the situation they are in unless we have safe and legal routes to help them. One of my Syrian friends often says, “You won’t leave home unless home has the mouth of a shark.” If anybody thinks all those taking risks to cross the English channel in dinghies and other smaller boats should have a second thought, what should that be? Die falling into the mouths of sharks or run away to go into the unknown over the known danger? It is very natural to run for safety. Because hope is what almost everybody has. Hoping for better days and life despite all the challenges and sufferings of the day.

I have read and heard many good initiatives and ideas on what could and should be done to address the crisis. The need for being proactive and collaborative. The need for addressing our collective human responsibilities and moral obligations in the sense of urgency and with more plans in the long run.  I have also read and heard many disheartening stuffs in the past few days. As disheartening as the words are, I am not going to repeat them because I don’t believe they represent the country I know is the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that there are many great people in this country who are doing everything possible to support fellow asylum seekers and migrants. People always on the right side of history. I am a living testament and I wholeheartedly believe the good outweighs. I feel blessed to have had the support of many wonderful people in my life.

I grew up listening to the BBC; watching premier league; supporting England in world cup competitions because of the influence of the premier league on me; reading the best of Shakespeare; learning about one of the most civilised democracies and human rights records. Hence coming and seeking asylum in this country was natural for me when I needed protection and had to flee. People have reasons why they take all those perilous journeys. Let us listen to them as well. Let us give chance to fellow humans to rebuild their lives and unpack their potentials. It may take time, but we will be rewarded with all our good investment.

There is also some fact to know about our immigration system because some people think the immigration system to be the softest ever, which is not my experience as many fellow asylum seekers and refugees will testify similarly. There are lots of ups and downs going through the immigration system. It is not all a 4*/5* hotel life as mentioned by some. I have seen the good and the bad of our immigration system.

It is time to rethink. To revisit our system. To check as to when all the safe and legal routes would be open. How we can widen the welcome and meet the expectation and respect Britain has globally. To also make sure people seeking protection are given the protection they deserve. To make sure those stuck in the system are properly dealt with. Yes, calling for more compassion and positive actions. Finding ways to bring wider civil society, businesses, and others on board so that we all contribute to the Refugees Welcome work through schemes like Community Sponsorship of Refugees. It takes us all to change the course. And the time is now.


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