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MDX helping teenage refugees by hosting inspirational youth club

The teenagers arrived in the UK from war torn regions without any friends or family

Teenage refugees who arrived alone in the UK from war torn regions have been getting inspiration through a youth club at Middlesex University.

Kind-hearted Spanish language lecturer Maria Jimenez helped Barnet Refugee Service transfer the venue for its weekly youth club to the main MDX campus in Hendon in March last year.

Every week teenage refugees, from countries such as Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Libya, can enjoy a range of activities and social interaction at the university as they adjust to life in Britain.

The teenagers have enjoyed a diverse range of activities including music lessons, photography classes, personal training, Capoeira, dances of the world, football sessions, tae-kwon-do, cooking, movie nights, Spanish and English lessons, game nights, tennis, IT in the computer labs and short-movie production.

‘We create a community for them where they are safe and where they are with others kids in the same situation, it’s like a free space, a place for them to forget,' Middlesex lecturer Maria Jimenez.

Explaining why she set up the club, Maria added: ‘I just wanted to help the community.

‘I’m interested and wanted to help refugees because I am migrant myself, from Spain.

‘But I was privileged because I come from a country where there are many, many possibilities in terms of education so I wanted to help others who are less privileged.’

Maria is currently on a sabbatical back in Spain undertaking her PHD but now two MDX students via the Middlesex University Student Union have been supporting the club in 12-week paid placements.

According to Maria, the club is ‘growing’ in popularity and more than 20 teenagers recently attended a weekly club compared to around seven youngsters when they first started.

The youngsters are typically aged between 14 to 17 and live in Barnet and they all arrived in the country on their own after escaping war zones or hardship in their homeland, according to Maria.

‘We create a community for them where they are safe and where they are with others kids in the same situation,’ she said.

‘It’s like a free space, a place for them to forget if they can about their situation.

‘Most of them are unaccompanied minors and many of them don’t speak English so there are quite a lot of communication issues and most of them arrived recently.

‘Once they become independent they can move on with their lives.

‘So (our club) is their first contact with the UK community, society in a sense.’

Barnet Refugee Service, a not-for-profit organisation based in Edgware, helps more than 1,2000 refugees every year.

Elias Matar, a youth wellbeing coordinator at Barnet Refugee Service, said: 'The campus also allows us to use its sports fields, such as basketball, ping pong, football and billiards.

'Support is provided by our wonderful placement students at Middlesex University.

'The youth club is also open for collaboration with external organisations, projects and individuals to contribute.

'Alongside providing us with the use of their campus facilities, Middlesex University allocate us two student placements each semester as part of their Community Engagement Student Union’s Placement Scheme.

'The scheme is designed to boost student employability and increase collaboration within Barnet and beyond.

' Last year, two of our placement students won the community engagement award for their work with us.

'Beyond this we see Middlesex universe ‘s offer is showing the young refugees and asylum seekers that they are welcome in this setting and they can walk around students and be young people in a modern and multi-purpose campus.'

Maria would like to thank a number of Middlesex staff who have helped out including MSc student Guina Aoun who hosted fitness classes, the Vice-Chancellor and management team for their support, community placements coordinator Sally Bernard, technical photography tutor William Gillingham-Sutton, student Mariana Amaroo, deputy sports operations manager Jordan Andrews, senior music production technician Michael McGlone and Marta Sobotka for their continued help with sessions.

Find out more about the Middlesex University Student Union.

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