STAR: Student Action for Refugees

Much earlier this year I left the office late, and in the dark outside the Student Union was a small group of students standing in the mud behind a small desk glowing with the soft light of candles.  This turned out to be STAR raising awareness of the plight of refugees entering the UK.  I was impressed by their support for people trying to make sense of a new culture and helping them to adapt to the country that had hopefully provided them some security.

 

One of our first year students, Wasim Reza, was standing behind the desk that day, and he has written this blog about the important work of STAR:

 

Cardiff Met STAR (Student Action for Refugees) is a new society for this academic year. The Society is affiliated with a national charity called STAR in order to help welcome Refugees and Asylum seekers to the UK. STAR national aims to better the lives of Asylum seekers and Refugees in the UK, and they do this through campaigning and educating people about refugees and asylum seekers. STAR is made up of 13,000 student volunteers from over 30 universities from across the UK.

 

STAR

 

Cardiff Met STAR has held a number of fundraiser and awareness events over the past academic year, for example, a candlelit vigil highlighting how thousands of lives have been lost by refugees and asylum seekers who take an overseas route to Europe from Turkey and Libya in an attempt to flee conflict in their home country.  The vigil was held on International Humanitarian Rights Day to emphasize and remind people that all humans have the same rights and that we cannot turn our backs simply because it’s not on our doorstep.  Cardiff Met STAR has worked to change the sometimes negative view people in the UK hold towards refugees and asylum seekers by showing the film “Dirty Pretty Things” in which themes of both the humanity and exploitation of refugees are explored.

Cardiff Met STAR has also campaigned to make the routes to Europe safer for refugees and asylum seekers while they are traveling to safer countries by supporting petitions like “Safe Routes Save Lives,” which hopes to ensure that there are adequate search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Cardiff Met STAR, in partnership with STAR, sent a petition to Downing Street on behalf of all the societies working with the national charity to gain the attention of the Prime Minister in order to try and make a difference in the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.

The Society helps refugees and asylum seekers improve their English Language skills by sponsoring an informal English conversation club held once a week at the Oasis Centre in Splott. The sessions are broken into two parts, both an hour each.  In the first half, volunteers build rapport with the refugees and asylum seekers, getting to know them and their stories (where they have come from, what their cultures are and to explain other cultures to them). The second half focusses on a slightly more formal English class where the refugees and asylum seekers are in a classroom setting in which the they have the time and opportunity to practise their English. The English language club at the Oasis Centre has been a huge success and there have been more than 35 refugees and asylum seekers in the class.  It can be a lot for volunteers at times, however it is a very friendly and supportive atmosphere and everyone encourages and helps each other.

Cardiff Met STAR is not just a society within the university as it has had a positive impact on the greater Cardiff community as well. It gives volunteers an opportunity to help refugees and asylum seekers in who may not have received this kind of support otherwise.  For students who are not from Cardiff, it gives them an opportunity to get to know the city of Cardiff better and sometimes learn from the refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom have lived in Cardiff longer than the students.  It is a learning experience for both parties, and volunteers go not just to teach but also to learn.  Many of our volunteers have picked up a few words of other languages, such as Arabic, and it looks good on a CV as it improves skills such as communication, working with people from different cultures and backgrounds, teamwork and teaching skills.

In the new academic year, Cardiff Met STAR will continue the weekly English conversation club as well as holding events and socials in support of Refugees and Asylum seekers across the UK and beyond.  We hope to see you next year!

 

STAR won the Cardiff Met Student Union Society Award this year for the best Contribution to the Community!  This is a much-deserved award and recognition of the work put in by all the volunteers.  Please do get involved!

 

 

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