Actor Michael Sheen has personally congratulated refugees and asylum seekers graduating from an innovative summer school.
The six-week ASPIRE programme – organised by Cardiff University and First Campus – supports refugees, asylum seekers and forced migrants into UK higher education.
The students are given intensive English classes, academic taster courses, confidence-building experiences and advice on how to apply to university.
The summer school graduates met Sheen at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff’s Bute Park, Cardiff, ahead of their graduation ceremony at Cardiff University.
Hamza Abdallah Ssewankambo, a teacher from Uganda who came to Wales in 2018, told Sheen that the support of the summer school had made a big difference to his life.
“I had been in a very tense situation and when I first came here I still had that fear,” he said.
“I talked to my social worker and she introduced me to Cardiff University and I started the summer courses. I started with English and they introduced me to other courses.”
Hamza, who has been volunteering at the Homeless World Cup and is friends with players in the Wales squad, added: “I’ve now got so many friends and I’ve learned so much and widened my experience.
“I can stand in front of Michael Sheen and talk about it like this!”
Ilham Mahdi, from Iraq, spent several years in London but feels like she has really started to blossom since moving to Wales.
“It’s a very good place to be. When I heard about Cardiff University courses I wanted to take part,” she said.
“I enjoy the English courses and the courses on interpreting opened my eyes. That was amazing. Also the course about how to start your own business.”
“There aren’t any Arabic counsellors so I said I would be the first one in Wales and will start my own business.”
Sheen praised the ASPIRE programme and spoke with the 2019 graduates.
He told them: “What’s meaningful for me is knowing that you can all now help so many other people.
“You know what it’s like to be in that position and will now affect other people’s lives.”
Many refugees and asylum seekers are forced to leave behind established careers in distressing circumstances.
Those seeking to enter UK universities face barriers including financial constraints, non-recognition of their qualifications and a lack of support to improve their English.
The ASPIRE summer school programme is designed to help them overcome many of these obstacles.
Cardiff University’s Head of Widening Participation and Community Outreach, Scott McKenzie, said: “This programme works on a number of levels from boosting the students’ confidence and English skills, to providing academic opportunities across various subject areas and practical information about courses and access to university.
“Universities can play a major role in helping asylum seekers and refugees to build new lives for themselves in challenging circumstances.”
Welsh actor and activist Sheen, who in previous years has congratulated refugee summer school graduates via video message, has taken on a hands-on role in the organisation of the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff.
He led the bid for the event, which has been staged by the Homeless World Cup Foundation and supported by social inclusion charity Street Football Wales.
More than 500 players representing over 50 countries are playing in a festival of football which seeks to inspire people experiencing homelessness and social exclusion towards a brighter future.
The tournament runs until Saturday 3 August.