The founder of Hopetowns, STUDENTS4Refugees and a team member share their thoughts on the collaboration between STUDENTS4REFUGEES and Hopetowns. Read on to know more about this unique collaboration connecting students and the local communities, where they use their experiences to empower each other.
As a Ph.D. researcher and visiting lecturer at the University of Westminster, with a longstanding interest in the interlinked themes of borders, violence(s) and representation, I have been delighted to act as a link between Westminster students and the Hopetowns project. By way of background, the London-based Hopetowns project emerged from the solidarity and support structures of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp in northern France. Spearheaded by one of the former Calais camp community leaders, Hopetowns aims to support the well-being and a sense of belonging to wider society, by starting at the early stage of an individual’s asylum process.
Since February 2018, Hopetowns has been working to achieve its aims through concrete solutions to everyday problems intertwined with a welcoming atmosphere and emotional support. Under Samer Mustafa’s leadership, Hopetowns has seen great success and widespread interest among refugees and asylum-seekers in London. To-date, the group has welcomed refugees and asylum-seekers from countries such as Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, Syria, and Kuwait, including many unaccompanied minors, young women and mothers.
Witnessing the budding partnership between the STUDENTS4REFUGEES at Westminster and the Hopetowns youth has been a real privilege. It is evident that there is ample scope for future collaboration between the two groups of ambitious young people, who seem to share a genuine sense of mutual respect and a sense of belonging to common humanity.
The idea of starting the Hopetowns charity emerged from my own experience while I was waiting for my asylum case here in the UK. Based on how I felt during that time, I knew something was missing for young asylum-seekers going through the same process as me. I wanted to find a way to address the disconnection which I felt internally, and the isolation I was experiencing externally. For all of these reasons, I thought I’d better start something good for other people, who are finding themselves in the same situation as I was before.
Hopetowns is here to help refugees and asylum-seekers with integration into their new communities, and to help build skills to get through everyday life in Britain. Importantly, we are also here to take all the stress and bad thoughts from their minds; to join together in friendship and solidarity. We give our participants free education within a friendly and supportive atmosphere; in Hopetowns they find a community and an oasis of hope. We offer all of our services with full dignity and respect. Dignity, I believe, is a sign of shared humanity and crucially important for all human beings.
I would like to thank every person who has believed in me and my idea. I am grateful to the students of STUDENTS4REFUGEES from the University of Westminster who have joined us as friends, reaching out a hand and building bridges with us.
STUDENTS4REFUGEES is a student-led organisation created within the Democratic Education Network and aims to establish a platform that will allow us to serve refugee camps in a more subjective manner. This will include tailoring our goals and aims based on the camps we may be attending. A trip to Ventimiglia refugee camp of Italy will see STUDENTS4REFUGEES possibly purchasing shoes and socks – a necessity of those living in this camp. STUDENTS4REFUGEES are still growing as a platform and in working with organisations in London that work with refugees, we hope to make an impact, including Hopetowns.
As an undergraduate student studying International relations and development, working with Hopetowns has allowed me to gain a perspective on the life that occurs after refugees reach their desired destination. It has shown me that current world politics is intricate and affects every single person. Hopetowns has become a symbol for me personally, teaching me that: in this world, all that is needed is mutual respect and the idea of common humanity. The work that Hopetowns have continually done has created the ability for many teens that have traveled searching for refuge to integrate and blossom.
‘Act local, think global’ is an amazing mantra inspired by the UN’s Sustainable development global goals. I believe Hopetowns is the epitome of this, working to help the people they can and having an impact in the global refugee crisis in such a positive way with refugees within London. This inspired me to think about the various scenarios that have occurred putting every Hopetowns attendee in their current context. This is not one – size – fits all and the continuing interaction we have with this amazing organisation will allow us to develop our understanding and continue doing what we intend to do at STUDENTS4REFUGEES.
This relationship has been beneficial for both the DEN team of Westminster and Hopetowns allowing all of us to build a comforting and rewarding situation of blossoming friendship and admiration of amazing people such as Samer, who continue to do amazing work and inspire more people every moment with his amazing attitude and outlook on life. This is not an ‘us and them’ situation, this is a partnership of equality and one that I am looking forward to nurturing. This learning experience has created a context for a commitment and extended communication to be forged with people I would have never connected with and that makes me very grateful to Hopetowns and those within DEN who have been a catalyst in forging this relationship.
Marta Welander: Ph.D. researcher and Visiting lecturer at the University of Westminster. Founder of Refugee Rights Europe.
Samer Mustafa: Founder of Hopetowns
Zeenat Khan: Undergraduate student – international relations and development – at University of Westminster