One of our wonderful volunteers, Susan Young, was so inspired by fellow volunteer Waseem, that she asked if she could interview him about how he arrived in England from Syria and his experiences of living here and volunteering with Gateshead Carers. It was through meeting Waseem a few years ago that Susan started to learn Arabic and you can read a bit more about that over on our blogpage.

Here is Waseem’s Story:

Waseem was born in Syria and lived there as both a child and as a young adult.  Waseem had a happy family life living with his mother, father, 3 sisters and 2 brothers and was at University where he had just completed the second year of a five year Psychology Degree when war broke out in Syria.  Suddenly Waseem and his family’s lives were turned upside down. Waseem, his mother, 3 sisters and his brother Hamza had to flee their home and travel to Jordan where they ended up living in a refugee camp. 

Because the family had to flee so quickly the only personal items Waseem could take with him were a pair of pyjamas and a pair of specially made medical shoes to help him walk. Waseem’s father stayed in Syria and his other brother who was working as a builder in Lebanon returned to Syria.

On arriving at the refugee camp in Jordan the family were given a tent to live in.  This was their home for more than a year until they were then given a caravan.  Life was extremely hard for the family living there. Waseem remembers the caravan being extremely hot during the Summer and extremely cold during the Winter and said it was a “really tough life”. The amount of money each person was given to live on was around £15 per month, this money was needed to cover the cost of their food.  Waseem lived at the Refugee Camp for 6 years until one day someone from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) came along and approached both Waseem and Hamza who also has the same physical disability as Waseem and asked if they would like to go to England.

In April 2018 Waseem and Hamza arrived at Newcastle Airport after being flown there by the Royal Air Force and were met by Joanna Murray a Support Worker with Gateshead Council who Waseem describes as being “absolutely amazing!”

Under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) which overseas refugees from Syria, they were both given the chance to come here to live and were granted immediate permanent residence under this scheme for their own safety.

On arriving in Newcastle Waseem could speak no English and Hamza only a few words. However, over the past 3 years Waseem has worked hard at learning English. He explained that at first it was difficult communicating especially with him being really shy but as he was very eager to learn the language he overcame this.

Firstly, the brothers’ support worker took them to the Chinese Centre where they both studied English for 6 months.  It was here where they made several friendships with people from all different nationalities who were in a similar situation. Waseem then attended the International Language Centre for a few months whilst waiting for a place at Gateshead College.

Waseem is now studying at Gateshead College and has recently passed exams at Level 1 in speaking, listening, reading and writing and is planning on studying for Level 2 in September.   He is also learning to drive and has recently passed his theory test and is awaiting a date for his practical test. 

Along with the support Waseem has received from Joanna he has also received support from Gateshead Carers as both Waseem and Hamza care for each other. Through the Carer Wellbeing Grant, Waseem was able to buy a TV which he found really helpful for learning and practicing his English.  For almost 2 years Waseem has been volunteering with Gateshead Carers something which he says he never thought he would ever be able to do.  Waseem works as a Befriender which he really enjoys especially as he likes to help others and as this has also helped him with his English.

Waseem is also keen to learn photography and digital video.  However, when it comes to employment Waseem says his ideal job would be to work as a Support Worker for Gateshead Carers especially as he enjoys working with people.

Waseem says he is so blessed to be here and grateful, however he does miss his family especially his mother who he says is “my hero and everything to me”.  He hopes that one day his mother and sisters will be able to leave the refugee camp and come to England.

Like a lot of other refugees Waseem has gone through some extremely tough times which some people will thankfully never ever experience and yet despite all of this he is always smiling and is so friendly and welcoming towards others. 

If everyone had the same positive attitude as Waseem the world would definitely be a much better place. As Waseem says:

Life is too short, you have to do something nice for others to make them smile. 

Waseem should be very proud of what he has achieved so far and we look forward to seeing what he accomplishes in the future.