I volunteered with refugees and asylum seekers in the second year of my PhD. The Olive initiative, led in partnership with Bristol University, University of East London and Refugee Education, is an accessible hybrid scheme which enables those from refugee/asylum seeking backgrounds to access higher education. As people we gravitate towards community and a sense of belonging, and I think that people from refugee backgrounds need that too. Enabling access to education and eventually the job market, would be one way to foster that.

It became evident quite soon into my volunteering that many people come to the UK already qualified and have completed a degree, however, sometimes these qualifications are not always recognised. 

Calligraphy workshop output, Olive conference Budapest 2023

This then puts a limit on a person’s ability to continue their professions and re-build their life away from the destruction that they fled. The person becomes limited in the way they can support themselves and for some, their families too. This is an important issue. Without having a recognisable degree or qualification, employers are reluctant to consider a whole population of people, leading to further problems such as integration into society.

A lack of guidance from those who are knowledgeable of the UK education system is apparent. As PhD students, we have gone through many proposals and applications ourselves, and if we can take a few moments out of our own hectic schedules, to help others who are writing university applications or scholarship proposals, we are also helping with a wider societal issue.

Whilst acting as a tutor, I learnt a lot about the complexity of people’s situations. I was opened to a world of other cultures and languages; I was also invited to share my experiences and speak at the Olive 2023 conference in Budapest, joining other Olive initiatives in Europe. I met some of the other students in person and got to hear about their incredible journeys as well as participate in workshops. One of my favourite workshops was the Calligraphy workshop, led by a former student!

Overall, I would describe the experience as very rewarding and positive. As students ourselves, we understand how difficult the academic process it is, and (potentially) how difficult it is in the current job market. I will continue acting as a tutor for Olive, and hope a few others join me too.