There have been so many nice people who have helped me since arriving in the UK. Teachers at Edinburgh College who went out of their way to help me learn English, and a student I met at the University of Edinburgh who composed a song that was dedicated to me, my family and our story.
However, it was a volunteer at the University of Edinburgh who changed my life. We had only been in the UK for two months before schools closed due to COVID-19. We did not know any English, and there was no longer anywhere for us to go to learn it. The volunteer from the university stepped in and helped me and my sisters learn English remotely, whilst providing us with moral support. I will never forget what he did for me and my family.
We are grateful for the kindness we have been shown since arriving in the UK, but it wasn’t always like this.
I’m Haya, and I’m 19 years old. My family and I fled Syria and arrived in Scotland three and a half years ago. The journey was really difficult, we didn’t want to leave. We never expected that we’d leave our country forever, only for two or three months. Then after a year, the war never ended.
When the problems started, we left in a hurry, leaving our belongings behind and went to my grandparents house. After two or three days when the dust settled we returned to our home, but it was destroyed – they shelled our house. Everything just disappeared. As the fighting continued, we fled to Damascus, which we were told was a safer place. The problems then came to Damascus too. In that moment, we couldn’t think of a solution, it was really hard. My Mum was a lady travelling alone with five young children. She had responsibility for everything.
After being in Damascus, we were told that there was a safe place close to our original home, so we went back and stayed there. We then stayed in a building in an area that was under siege, and our power was cut off, and we weren’t allowed to buy food. The situation was awful, but then it got much worse when our roof was shelled. We were on the highest floor of the building, but somehow the shell didn’t explode, it just stayed wedged in our wall. If it had exploded, I wouldn’t be here.
After that incident, Mum said we had to leave the country, we couldn’t stay. We reached a situation whereby if we crossed the wrong street at the wrong time, we would be killed. We saw people dying in front of our eyes.
We left Syria via Damascus, and then travelled from Damascus to Lebanon, and from Lebanon to Egypt. We stayed in Egypt for six years, but my younger sister’s health deteriorated. She had seven surgeries, but nothing changed. Every doctor in Egypt said they tried everything they could. They told us that she would be able to get the operation in Europe, so then we travelled to the UK under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme.
We arrived in Scotland at 9pm, and I remember it being really rainy and cold, the weather back home was always hot. But that didn’t matter to us, because we were safe.
Many refugees in the UK are still heartbroken, because part of their lives is missing: their family, their home, their friends, and their country. Although I miss home, many young people like myself want to build a future here, and study and learn English for a better life. But for older people, those who don’t know English, it’s really difficult for them.
Despite the difficulties I’ve faced in my life, I’m grateful that my family and I are safe in the UK. My brother and sister are studying English at school and college, and we’re all doing well.
In my spare time I volunteer at Oxfam, as at certain points along my journey I wasn’t always shown kindness. At our lowest points, nobody helped us. I know what it’s like to live and go through unimaginable struggles. That’s why I’m thankful to those who have helped me. Kindness is like a cycle, and it’s important to give back.
I see myself in anyone that struggles, and I want to be the first person to stand by them. I just love helping people, it’s something that’s inside of me.
I’m grateful to the people of Scotland. There are so many people here in Scotland that are so kind and have made us feel welcome.