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1800x500 KCL STAR 7 (2) ;

#RefugeeWeek2020: Volunteering with local refugee students

King’s Student Action for Refugees (KCL STAR) is a student-run organisation that aims to raise awareness of refugee issues and promote the integration of refugees and asylum seekers into society. KCL STAR volunteers work across three programmes for students from refugee backgrounds in London, including homework clubs and an outreach programme focusing on how to apply to university in the UK.

We spoke to Siobhan McShane, a Master’s student in the Department of Classics and KCL STAR's Southfields Officer, about her voluntary role in the society and how she helps local refugee students realise their potential. 

780x440 Siobhan

What are you studying at King’s?

I’m studying an MA (part-time) in the Classical World and its Reception. That’s about how heritage such as literature, sculpture, architecture etc. from Ancient Greece and Rome is received and used in later periods of history and today. I’m particularly interested in postcolonial interactions with Greek and Roman literature.

Why did you get involved with KCL STAR?

I noticed more and more during my undergraduate degree the gap between myself – a white, privately educated, highly privileged university student, studying literature that informed and at least implicitly supported empire and slavery – and the displaced and abused minority authors who are writing back against this colonial and racist discourse using the Classics. I wanted to not just write about the amazing work that’s being done by these authors, but also to get involved in practically helping people who are displaced and persecuted today. KCL STAR seemed a good place to start.

What is your role in KCL STAR?

I was a volunteer on KCL STAR’s Outreach Programme, which runs workshops for refugee and asylum-seeking students in a local school about access to higher education and applying for jobs. I have just taken on the role of organising that programme for next year as the Southfields Officer. I will also be responsible for recruiting and managing the volunteers who help the young people with their English lessons.

What have you gained from your role with KCL STAR?

I got to meet a bunch of great young people, some with huge aspirations like becoming a heart surgeon, and some with more minor, but no less important, goals, like improving their English enough to pass their GCSEs. They were all inspiring and a joy to work with. I also got to visit Tower Bridge with them and learn some dance moves from Breakin’ KCL!

Has King’s or KCLSU supported you in this role?

KCLSU provided safeguarding training for us as volunteers. Not the most exciting thing to do but definitely necessary. They also allowed us to hold an outreach session on each campus – based on the feedback we received, these were definitely the sessions the young people enjoyed most.

A Diversity and Inclusion Officer from King’s also ran a session for the young people to explain opportunities for them. This included information about King’s Sanctuary Scholarships, which offer funding to young people with uncertain asylum status who don’t have access to Student Finance. King’s is doing a lot of good work in this area.

How has your role changed in response to COVID-19?

Happily, our Outreach Programme wrapped up just before lockdown came in, so we were able to complete all our planned activities. The help other volunteers were offering for English language lessons at the school had to end early though. As I look ahead to my new role in planning these programmes the future is very uncertain. We are not yet sure when secondary schools will be able to open and, if things like Fresher’s Fair don’t happen in the normal way, we may struggle to recruit volunteers.

Our other volunteering programme partners with the charity Love2Learn. They offer homework support and since lockdown have had to move to online provision. Many of their young beneficiaries lack the technology they need to access this support. Homework support is essential for refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people since parents who are also struggling to learn English won’t be able to help them. Often the problem is not understanding the question rather than not knowing how to answer it. Refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people will be falling behind during lockdown and something needs to be done about it.

How do you think we can best support refugees, asylum seekers and migrants going forward?

As a university, King’s primary focus and role has to be increasing access to higher education. This means making schools aware of the challenges asylum seekers and refugees may have in getting to universities and the options that are available to help them overcome these barriers, such as King’s Sanctuary Scholarships. However, it also means combatting abuse and discrimination wherever it appears on campus and addressing historical failures to support minorities.

How can people support KCL STAR?

KCL STAR has just launched a fundraising campaign called Tech2Teach to raise money for tablets for Love2Learn’s beneficiaries. And STAR National have several ongoing campaigns about access to higher education. You can also check out KCL STAR’s Facebook page for regular news updates and more opportunities to get involved.

Find out more about how King’s is contributing to understanding and responding to the global issue of forced displacement and helping to realise the educational potential of refugees on the King’s Sanctuary Programme webpage.

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