Meet Paul. He had to leave his family and travel across the world to start a new life free from persecution. He is living in 24 hour supported housing and thriving. Not only is he studying three A levels, but he’s secured three work experience placements, including a physiotherapy placement with Royal Surrey County Hospital.
Paul shares his story:
When I came to the UK in April last year, I was an asylum seeker from Nicaragua in Central America. I first stayed in London for one month in a shared house with some others asylum seekers, but it was a really small space compared to here. And then the Council in London sent me here, and I’ve been living here since.
What was your situation before you came to the UK?
I left Nicaragua because of political reasons. My family is against the government and what they do, and that put us in a bad position. My family didn’t have enough money for us all to leave so they are still back home in Nicaragua.
What was it like when you moved into the YMCA?
It felt like a whole different country to London. London is so noisy and there’s a lot of shops everywhere whereas here it was only houses and a few shops. It’s completely different.
At first, I was surprised when I arrived at the YMCA. It was bigger than the other house I stayed at in London. Here you have an entire building with, I don’t know, 30 rooms. It’s big. At first, they put me in a room with my own kitchen and I was really glad. I learned how to cook when I came to the UK, to survive. I like cooking. Sometimes I cook traditional Nicaraguan food, but most of the time I just cook when I really want to eat.
What happened next?
When I was in London, the council put me into an ESOL (English as a second language) class. I went in for two days, but the teacher told me that I didn’t need to do it as my English was at a good level already. They wanted me to do GCSEs but I had really good grades in my country for the equivalent of GCSEs already, which was frustrating.
When I moved into the YMCA, the first thing I tried to do was look for a higher-level school. I did an interview for the local sixth form to test my English and then I did a writing exam and passed them both. Since September, I’ve been studying Chemistry, Biology and PE at college. I want to be a physiotherapist and go to university to study this.
I’ve studied English since I was seven years old so I thought that I knew it well. But when I came here, I realised that it was completely different. It was a total change of culture, words and accents. It was really hard at the beginning, but now I’m more fluent and try to use a British accent. Here we even have one of our Project Workers Geordie (pictured below)’s thick Newcastle accent. Sometimes I just say yes to him because I don’t understand what he’s saying!
How has YMCA supported you?
They support me with everything. I’m an independent person and want to do everything by myself, but when I need help, they will help me, like with GP appointments, or things with school.
Have you made friends with people here?
Yeah, I have some friends at school. I have a Spanish friend at college which is really good, and I have some friends that are English too. And I’m friends with other YMCA residents.
I join the Wednesday chaplaincy dinners, and sometimes we play the PlayStation. At Christmas we had a little tournament, and I won!
How have you changed since starting at the YMCA?
I’m more independent. I can handle every situation in front of me and if I need help, I’ll request it. And I feel safe, I feel supported.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m in the debate club at college. I don’t participate as much because when I’m in a debate, my English stops working for some reason. But it’s a good way to learn.
And I’m in the football club.
What are your plans for the future?
To go to uni. I like Bristol and Birmingham. But I like Southampton as well. A couple of weeks ago, I went with the college on a trip to Oxford University. We saw the uni, spoke about the application process, and saw how life at the uni is.
Would you recommend living at YMCA DownsLink Group?
YMCA is a really nice place. It helps you with everything that you need if you ask for it. For me it’s a really nice place because of the people that live here. It’s a really good environment. Everyone is friendly with everyone. Everyone tries to help everyone. It has been a really good experience living here.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been accepted into 3 placements for work experience, for physiotherapy. I’m currently doing one at the Royal Surrey County Hospital and then will do another with Alan Physiotherapy.
We’re delighted that Paul is thriving, both at college and at his YMCA home, and we wish him all the best for university and beyond!