Imagine leaving everything you know behind; your home, your family and your friends. Imagine not knowing where you would go or whether you’d ever see your family again. Imagine making that decision when you are just 11 years old. Our Supervising Social Worker, Sue, shares the story of a young boy in our care, who made the brave decision to leave his home country of Eritrea.
Senay and his family were coming under increasing pressure from the authorities for compensation after his older brother had fled the country. So at just 11 years old, he took the brave decision to leave Eritrea with his cousin and two friends. Initially, he travelled to Ethiopia and lived in a refugee camp for almost 18 months, where he celebrated his 12th birthday. Senay recalled other children as young as 8 or 9 years old living unaccompanied in the camp.
He had hoped to go and live in a big city like Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, but the group decided to make their way to Europe. After leaving Ethiopia, they travelled to Sudan and onto Libya, where they paid to travel on a boat to Italy. Sadly, on the crossing the boat sank but luckily because Senay had learned to swim when he was younger, he survived. Many others on the boat didn’t.
Senay managed to get to Lampedusa, just off the coast of Sicily and then to the mainland. The authorities were so overwhelmed with refugees that they couldn’t look after everyone and so he was free to go to anywhere in Europe. He travelled by train to France and stayed in the camps by the border. He stayed there for a week before trying to get on a lorry to try and get to the UK.
At the border, Senay remembers that the lorries went in 2 different directions; if the lorry drove off down a long road, then it was heading for Germany. If the lorry stopped after a short distance, then it was going on the ferry to the UK.
On the first attempt, he was able to stow away in the back of a lorry heading for the UK. He remembered seeing the word “Manchester” on the side and knew that Manchester was in the UK. He travelled for around 12 hours in the back of the lorry, eventually banging on the side to alert the driver that he was in the back. The lorry driver was frightened when he opened the doors and found him, so he let him out and drove off.
After coming into the care of the Local Authority, Senay was placed with foster carers, Alan and Helen, in Derby. He was shocked and surprised when he met them for the first time, as Helen was also Eritrean. Alan, Helen and their family welcomed him into their home and into their family. It was comforting, as Helen was able to speak to him in their first language of Tigrinya and cook him Eritrean food like he was used to.
He slept with the lights on for the first few nights, as he had a lot of things going through his mind; “Where am I?”; “What about my family?”; “Am I safe?”.
Senay didn’t speak any English other than “Hello” and “Goodbye”, so having Helen and her daughter Hermela to talk to in Tigrinya was a great help. Sue enrolled him in Year 9 at a local mainstream school, where they really embraced him and made him feel welcome. Senay said: “On my first day, lots of pupils were coming up to me. They wanted to know who I was and where I came from. They wanted to touch my hair. I didn’t know what they were saying, as I didn’t speak English”.
Fast forward a couple of years to 2017, when Senay sat his GCSE’s. He achieved passes in Art and Textiles, which were his passion at School. He was also awarded the Inspire Community Award from his school, which celebrates those students who have overcome great barriers and inspired others.
With the excellent support of Alan and Helen, Senay enrolled at College to start his ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) in September 2017 and will complete his course in July 2019. When he’s older, he hopes to either be a P.E. teacher or work in the public sector in the police or fire service.
Whilst at Secondary School, there were occasions where Senay grew frustrated as he was struggling to make himself understood. His carer Alan, met with the school SENCO to discuss how to support him further in School. During one of these conversations, the SENCO asked if he had any hobbies or interests that he would like to pursue. Senay and Alan talked about athletics and it just so happened that one of the teachers was involved in the local athletics club. She agreed to meet Senay down there and introduce him and get him started with training. Athletics has become his new passion.
Senay raced in his first 5km event in October 2016 finishing with a time of 18mins and 29 secs. By February 2018, he had recorded a personal best for the 5km in 16mins and 41 secs. Many of the other young people at the athletics club of the same age have been training for years and he had achieved so much, in less than 2 years. More recently, he was invited to compete in the English School Championships in Leeds, where he finished 171 out of 312 competitors.
Senay has been in Alan and Helen’s care for nearly 5 years and has gone from strength to strength. Eventually, he would like a place of his own, but for the moment he is happy living with Alan and Helen. He’s become a big brother to their children and will forever be a part of the family. Despite leaving his own family behind and not knowing whether he would see them again, we were able to contact his family and he now has regular video calls to his brother in Texas and his parents, who are currently visiting.
I am immensely proud of Senay; from the 13-year-old who shook my hand and greeted me nervously some 4 years ago, to the wonderfully funny, polite and lovely young man he is today. He couldn’t have done this without the love, care and support of Alan and Helen and their family. It has been a privilege seeing Senay grow and on behalf of the team at Fosterplus, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Alan and Helen.
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