Our graduating refugees and asylum seekers meet Michael Sheen

Wednesday 31 July 2019

Actor Michael Sheen has personally congratulated refugees and asylum seekers graduating from our innovative summer school.

The six-week ASPIRE programme – organised by First Campus and Cardiff University – supports refugees, asylum seekers and forced migrants into UK higher education.

The students are given intensive English classes, academic taster courses, confidence-building experiences and advice on how to apply to university.

The summer school graduates met Sheen at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff’s Bute Park, Cardiff, ahead of their graduation ceremony at Cardiff University this evening.

Hamza Abdallah Ssewankambo, a teacher from Uganda who came to Wales in 2018, told Sheen that the support of the summer school had made a big difference to his life.

“I had been in a very tense situation and when I first came here I still had that fear,” he said.

“I talked to my social worker and she introduced me to Cardiff University and I started the summer courses. I started with English and they introduced me to other courses.”

Hamza, who has been volunteering at the Homeless World Cup and is friends with players in the Wales squad, added: “I’ve now got so many friends and I’ve learned so much and widened my experience.

“I can stand in front of Michael Sheen and talk about it like this!”

Ilham Mahdi, from Iraq, spent several years in London but feels like she has really started to blossom since moving to Wales.

“It’s a very good place to be. When I heard about Cardiff University courses I wanted to take part,” she said.

“I enjoy the English courses and the courses on interpreting opened my eyes. That was amazing. Also the course about how to start your own business.”

“There aren’t any Arabic counsellors so I said I would be the first one in Wales and will start my own business.”

Sheen praised the ASPIRE programme and spoke with the 2019 graduates.

He told them: “What’s meaningful for me is knowing that you can all now help so many other people.

“You know what it’s like to be in that position and will now affect other people’s lives.”

Many refugees and asylum seekers are forced to leave behind established careers in distressing circumstances.

Those seeking to enter UK universities face barriers including financial constraints, non-recognition of their qualifications and a lack of support to improve their English.

The ASPIRE summer school programme is designed to help them overcome many of these obstacles.

First Campus’s Director, Chris Webb, said: “we are very pleased to have worked in partnership with Cardiff University to deliver the ASPIRE Summer School, designed to help overcome some of the barriers these learners face.  On behalf of First Campus I would like to offer my congratulations to all participants on their achievements and I’m very much looking forward to joining the celebrations at your graduation ceremony.”