This week is refugee week, and we spoke to our Head of Performing Arts, Mia Suljic who came with her family as a refugee when she was three years old.
Mia and her family came to the UK in 1995 after stays in Croatia and France, we asked her about her experience, and how important it is to be welcoming to every new face in our community.
How important was it to be made to feel welcome? It was vital – You already feel like such an outcast and unwanted, especially at my age. All I knew was that we had to go and it wasn’t safe, so to be received so warmly on the other side of the ordeal just made it so much easier.
What was the most difficult part of moving to the UK and what was the best thing about coming here? The most difficult part about coming here was the unknown. My family didn’t know much about England – it was the early 90s, none of us could speak English, could predict what the food or weather or people would be like, so coming into this brand-new place with only the clothes on our backs was terrifying.
My mum always tells this story of when we first went shopping and she had been given a £20 note and told to shop. She had no idea how much that was and how much things were adding up to, or even what she was buying. It was all so unknown and new.
On the other hand, the best part about coming here at the time was the warmth of the people of Newcastle. We were welcomed into a small council flat in 1995, embedded into a community that checked in on us, brought hot food to our home, brought hand-me-down clothes to ensure we were dressed. And now, the community we have since built in the 20+ years of living here is the best thing about it. We made a home out of dire circumstances.
What does Benfield do to make new faces, refugees and asylum seekers feel welcome? Benfield accepts people as they are and where they are. Many new pupils slot right into their classes as the community around us is so warm and welcoming. Pupils have a buddy that shows them the ropes from something as simple as where the toilets are, how to get lunch, to who to speak to when they need help or have a problem.
There is a real sense of community and for a lot of people, especially those leaving everything they ever knew behind, community means everything.
What can we do as individuals and as a community to help people make a good start to live in the UK? As individuals, we should all take time to check in with people around us and just ask each other what we can do to make the load a little lighter. For some, it’s as simple as knowing they can knock on your door at 9pm for some sugar. Instead of throwing away old clothes and things that are still perfectly fine, just not ‘in’ anymore, find a way to donate it to people who have nothing. The things that many of us take for granted every single day can make the world of difference to someone starting out all over again.
No matter where they come from, we are happy to welcome anyone at Benfield school. Mia will be sharing her story in school, and we’d like to thank her for helping us make Benfield a fantastic environment.