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Our Zaina wins learning excellence award

We are proud as punch. Zaina, our very own Health and Wellbeing coordinator, has won a #InspireCymru2022 Award recognizing for learning excellence.

Zaina arrived in Wales three years ago after fleeing civil war in Syria. In the short time since her arrival, she has not only learned English but has also embarked on a master’s degree at the University of South Wales, completed two levels of British Sign Language, gained qualifications in public service, creative writing and interpreting. Alongside this she is learning Welsh. She not only juggles her studies with bringing up her two young sons but also works full-time and volunteers. She had just started a master’s degree in Syria when the civil war forced her to flee: “It was horrible. Where we lived was being bombed, there was no electricity, no water, no internet. I had to leave family behind.”

She spent time in Kuwait and studied intensive courses in education for people with learning difficulties. But she was unable to stay and on arrival to the UK, things were very different: “The English we studied at school in Syria was very basic. When I first got here, I didn’t want to leave my room because I couldn’t communicate with anyone. I felt useless.” She started volunteering which helped build her confidence and started an IELTS course – International English Language Testing System. Now, just three years after arriving in the UK, she is due to complete a degree in Education with Special Education/Additional Learning Needs. “It has been a really hard learning journey but I have been lucky. My friends put me in touch with a lovely Syrian lady who has helped look after my sons. I always tell her that I wouldn’t be able to go to university without her as I would never have been able to attend my evening lectures.”

Zaina studies alongside full-time employment. Working for the City of Sanctuary, she has also taken on a role with Addysg Oedolion Cymru | Adult Learning Wales as a Curriculum Development Officer. She is also keen to use the skills to help those who are struggling to learn: “Sometimes, sanctuary seekers who speak English as a second language find it difficult to learn. That might be because of the asylum process – which can challenge mental health, but it might also be because there are undiscovered learning difficulties. That’s something I am interested in researching.”

Zaina volunteered for several charities including Red Cross, Voices Network, Oasis Cardiff and the Welsh Refugee Council. “My sons often come with me when I volunteer. They are brilliant little activists.” Alongside all of this, she’s managed some time to start learning Welsh: “I can now read and write some Welsh. I am Syrian but I feel Welsh as well so it’s important to learn the language of the nation I now belong to.” Mike Chick, University of South Wales, nominated Zaina: He said: “What she has achieved is nothing short of amazing. She exemplifies how a culture can be enriched by integration. She has shown strength and resilience to study, work, and volunteer and of course to bring up her two young sons.”

Bravo, Zaina!

Read more about Zaina and this award here.