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Change the World Finalist: Musa Nela

Late last year we launched our ground-breaking Change the World Fund. The initiative offered a £5,000 grant along with specialist mentorship, to give students the opportunity to bring real change on key issues across the globe. There were so many incredible applicants, we wanted to know more about them and their ideas. Today we’re talking to Birmingham LLB student Musa Nela, whose idea impressed the judges so much, he was awarded an additional £3,000 prize.

 

When I was in college and seeking asylum, I used to attend a youth club called My-Place every week. My-Place is a youth club run by The Children’s Society. Their mission is to help unaccompanied minor asylum seekers who have just arrived in the UK while they are going through the immigration and asylum process.

The University of Law student Abira Eggeh was one of the dedicated volunteers that shared her time and energy with us. As we got to know each other, she told me about her studies. I told her that I was interested in studying law too but that I wasn’t able to, as I was still an asylum seeker.

We used to talk about how my studies were going at South and City College and I used to ask her what it was like studying at The University of Law and the subjects and the requirements I would need in order to apply.

 We agreed that I would send her all of my certificates so that she could send them to the Admissions Team and ask them what my next steps would be. The admissions team got back to us and said that I needed to complete my BTEC Level 3 qualification as my Diploma of State Mature from Albania was not enough alone to gain entry to the LLB.

Abira was also very keen to help me draft my personal statement for UCAS, to make sure that it followed a chronological order and that there were no grammatical mistakes.

 I can honestly say that if it hadn’t been for Abira, I would never have had the confidence to even apply to study at The University of Law. Her act of kindness helped to make my wildest dreams come true.

My Change the World Fund grant will go towards the Youth-led Commission on Separated Children. We are a group of young campaigners who are all here in the UK without family and have come together to make a change for refugees and young migrant’s lives. We are asking the government to give all separated children an independent guardian. At the moment, this only exists in Scotland and Northern Ireland but not in England or Wales. We want to influence the government to change this.

We travelled to Scotland in January 2020 to learn more about the Scottish Guardianship Service and met with guardians, the young people who had been supported by the guardianship service, and with an immigration solicitor who represents separated children. We listened to everyone’s stories about how the service works, how it helps children and the difference it can make to their lives.

We were so moved by hearing the guardians talking about helping young people understand they have a right to be safe and to claim asylum. This was so important for us to hear, as many of us were never told this when we first arrived. Having someone who understands the process and can explain all their rights is vital.

Guardians help children and young people to navigate the lengthy and complex path to asylum/immigration. They help them to understand the process, acting as an asylum teacher. Guardians explain the asylum process to young people, what their rights are and the roles and responsibilities of the different professionals. Guardians prepare young people for their solicitor appointments, as well as for their Home Office interviews. They will give them detailed information on what the building looks like, how they will be fingerprinted, the interview format and the types of questions they will be asked.

Many of us spent years in the asylum and immigration process. If we had one consistent person look out for us and explaining our rights it would have made a huge difference to our well-being, mental health and our case. It is too late for us but we want to make that change for all the children and young people who are arriving now. You can learn more about our campaign and sign our petition here.

At the age of 17, I arrived in the UK; I was an unaccompanied asylum seeker for three years. I did not have a voice and could not find competent legal advice. I was able to get through the asylum process and I managed to survive but I know that not all young people make it through. I have known people that have committed suicide because of the pressure and because they couldn’t handle the refusal. Most importantly, the fear of going back to their country. I don’t want anyone that comes to this country alone at the age of 17 to go through what I have gone through because I did not have a legal guardian.

I felt shocked, humbled and privileged to be selected as a finalist for the Change the World Fund. Three years ago I was an unlawful young person waiting for my deportation order to be executed and now I am presenting my pitch to the Vice Chancellor and the CEO of The University of Law.

I was absolutely delighted and so pleased that ULaw wanted to help people that are in my position. I just could not believe that, although my proposal was not chosen as the overall winner, the panel were so impressed that they decided to award me £3,000 to put towards my project.

I talked to the welfare officer here in Birmingham as I had a rush of happy, joyful excitement and other emotions that put a smile in my heart. She told me to be proud of myself as it was amazing news. This was the first time I felt proud of myself for doing something good. Even though I was not the winner of the Change the World Fund, this has been one of my greatest achievements. The award will leave a huge imprint on this world and help me make it a better place. This is the greatest privilege I could have, because I know that I will make a difference to people’s lives.

The first thing I am going to do with the funding is host a virtual screening of our film about the work of the Youth-led Commission; I want to show people what we do. This will raise awareness of the campaign and the need for independent guardians. It will also be an opportunity for the audience to hear directly from young people and to give them an opportunity to ask questions.

I plan to invite all of the young people involved in this campaign to the screening. I also plan to invite MPs, Councillors, Home Office civil servants, guardians from Scotland and Northern Ireland and individuals who work with young people (such as social workers and lawyers). We will also invite organisations such as The University of Law, UNICEF UK, YoungMinds, the Refugee Council, the United Nations, The International Organization for Migration and other organisations that have helped us gather evidence over the years. Finally, we will also send an invitation to all of the angels who have shown their support by signing our petition.

I was so pleased to be told that the Head of Access and Participation, Dr Morag Duffin had expressed interest in supporting me with my plans. I had a Zoom meeting with her and was I was so happy when she told me that she had already heard about the campaign and had seen the film. That put a smile into my face and made my day.

Growing up in Albania, I believed in social equality and I demonstrated for it. My experience in my home country, living in a society where the justice system is corrupted by the state, and my journey to seek asylum in UK made me understand how important it is to uphold the rule of law.

I have managed to combine settling in a new country, learning a new language and resuming my studies with a very strong commitment to support others less tenacious than myself. By being a barrister, I will be in a position to help asylum seekers access the rights they came to this country to find.

I use the University’s Employability Service on a regular basis. I’ve received help on how to write a legal CV and a cover letter. I have also benefited continually from the weekly Employability Newsletter where I have accessed interesting regional events that have helped me connect with professionals all around West Midlands.

I have mostly benefited from face to face career appointments with Claire Leslie. It’s rare to meet such a kind-hearted and devoted person that goes out of their way to understand and help you beyond what is required. She was the one who encouraged me to apply for the Change the World Fund. Because of her positive energy, I feel confident to say that I have been an asylum seeker and a refugee.  

Because of her dedication to me, I improved from being an average student to receiving feedback from my Human Rights teacher which said  that my work is to a “clear first class standard’’.

Claire has been brutally honest with me when reviewing my work and that has been key to securing two funded mini-pupillage and submitting my scholarship application to The Middle Temple ahead of the deadline.

I know I do not have my parents in the UK to guide and support me but, next to my mother, Claire Leslie has been the person that has cared for me more than anyone else. She is a remarkable person with a big heart for others. I do not believe that there are any words to describe how grateful I am for everything she has done for me.

ULaw is an inclusive and happy university. I would advise anyone who wants to pursue a career in law to come and take advantage of all the opportunities. My experience with ULaw has been beyond my expectations.

I feel like I am at home when I am at the University campus. I know I will feel sad when I will complete my studies and move on with my life because ULaw offered such a comfortable environment that fulfilled all of my needs. It offers such amazing facilities. I have taken advantage of the silent library because I like a bit of a quite space when I study. But I have also booked a private room when my friends and I needed to discuss our mooting competition strategy without any interruptions from anyone else.

Members of staff are always approachable, friendly and polite, from administrators to the dean. They have an open-door policy; this way you do not have to ask for an appointment. You can book it yourself at any time.

I am in the third year of my LLB studies and I plan to stay at The University of Law to do the BPC LLM. I want to become a barrister, open my own law firm and be a voice for those who don’t know their rights or have the opportunity to fight for them. I want to go to work every day knowing that there will be someone needing my help and there will be some way I can help them. This would be the greatest privilege I could have.

 

2021 update

 

Since we last spoke, I have received the Birmingham Employability Award from ULaw. I was so shocked that my own university gave me this honour; it was overwhelming made me feel proud of my work. It was more than just an award for me. It made me feel recognised and validated within the university community.

I invited my corporate parents from Birmingham City Council, my mentor from The University of Law and the Welfare Officer to attend the award night as my guests of honour. It was the first time I have invited people to an event like this, and I felt so loved and cared for as they took time out of their busy schedules to be part of my happiness.

When I applied for the Change the World Fund, I intended to hold a wide sector conference to invite all the people and the organisations that have helped and worked with our Youth-led Commission on Separated Children campaign.

Because of Covid-19, we had to move all the campaign work online. We will be investing the funding and holding the conference and other activities once the restrictions have been fully lifted.

We have reached the stage where we are officially launching the campaign during Refugee Week. I am currently doing a video with Birmingham City Council called “Future You” to showcase the campaign. It involves Dean of Birmingham Campus Sarah Ramsay, The West Midlands Metro Mayor Andy Street, The CEO of Birmingham Children’s and Women’s NHS Foundation Trusts Sarah-Jane Marsh, The CEO of The Children’s Society Mark Russell, The Principle of South & City College Mike Hopkins and my first social worker from Birmingham Children’s Trust. I am honoured that so many people have been able to contribute to the video.  

I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received from the ULaw Support Service since the funding was allocated. I felt so proud when the Dean of Birmingham campus called and told me how impressed she was with the work I was doing and said she would support me with the campaign in any way possible. The Dean shared my campaign within the University community and through other sources, which helped raise signatures.

I have found nearly everything I have been looking for at The University of Law. A university that welcomes students from around the globe and goes above and beyond to help them achieve their potential.

I was delighted that my mentor, ULaw Head of Access & Participation Morag Duffin, could attend one of the Youth Led Commission meetings. This way, she was able to see the progress of the campaign. Morag has been more than a mentor. Her support has been invaluable. We have had regular meetings to discuss the process of the campaign. She has been very productive in giving me ideas on how to improve aspects of the campaign. She has also checked some of the speeches I delivered to be distributed internally. She is one of the few people I share good news with as she is such a caring person.

As for the future, I have received an offer from ULAW Birmingham to study the Barrister Professional Course with Masters (BPC LLM). I have a great relationship with all of the tutors, and I am very thankful for all the support that is available.

I am grateful for all the help I have received from the Head of BPC Lee Handy on applying and preparing for the course. I have also been awarded a major Blackstone Scholarship for my BPC studies from The Middle Temple.

I am also very grateful to Janet Wright (ULaw Head of Undergraduate Programmes and Student Affairs) for her support of my application for the scholarship. She wrote an amazing reference which probably tipped the scales in my favour.  

Next year I will be putting all my effort into succeeding on the course and applying for pupillages.

 

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