Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Jun 17 2024
From Refugee to Award Winning Refugee Case Manager: One Man’s Journey from Afghanistan to the UK

Kamal Faizi accepts his award for 'Volunteer of the Year'

Kamal Faizi’s journey from Afghanistan to the UK wasn’t an easy one. He and his brother arrived in December of 2021 after traveling across several countries and the English Channel. Upon arrival, they requested asylum and were immediately placed in a COVID-19 quarantine.

He was 22 when he made the difficult journey, placed temporarily in Ipswich, and separated from his brother. But now, nearly two years later, his smile is broad as he appears on a video call from Brighton. For the past three months, he’s been working with the Refugee Employment Programme (REP) as a case manager.

He’s stepped into the very role that provided him with support when he first arrived in country, giving him an opportunity to not only provide that same support to other refugees, but lend his first-hand experience to the job.

REP is funded by the UK Home Office to provide tailored and flexible employment support to refugees arriving to help accelerate their progress as they adjust to life in England. Palladium manages the program in the South East of England, where Faizi and his colleagues work each day with their ‘clients’ – refugees who have been given indefinite leave to remain in the country and need help integrating and finding work into their new communities.

Giving Back to the Community

In early 2022, while waiting for his refugee status, he was placed in a hotel alongside other refugees from around the world and very quickly found himself bored. “After 3 or 4 months, everyone thought we needed some activities, attend ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) classes, maybe play football, and build community,” he explains. “There were people from all over in the hotel, from Africa, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and different countries, and now I know more about their countries and cultures and when I was there, I even learned a bit of Kurdish and Arabic.”

And then he discovered volunteering.

“Volunteering wasn’t common in my home country,” he laughs. “I’d never heard of volunteering before, you can work, and no one will pay you? That’s strange.” But he saw it as a way to update his CV while he was waiting on the paperwork to be able to work in the UK. “For a year, I worked as a volunteer with a local theatre department doing work backstage, pretty much everything that could be organised or done behind the scenes,” he explains.

In addition to the theatre, he volunteered with other refugees in the hotel with him. “I did engagement inside the hotel, I was their connection to any events happening,” he explains. “I lived there for over a year and knew about 150 people there so I would arrange the paperwork and plans to gather people in the hotel to play football or sports, interpreting between new arrivals and support workers.

It was his volunteering work in Suffolk that earned him a recent award. “Rebecca Harpur from the Suffolk Archives and Volunteering Matters called me up and asked if I minded being nominated, and I had no expectations of winning.” But win he did. At the recent award ceremony he and a few of the team members attended, he says he was shocked and didn’t know what to say when he got up to the podium to receive the award. But his grin in the photos tells you everything you need to know.

The award was given through the Museums + Heritage Awards, which reward and celebrate the very best in museums and heritage across the globe and the category was ‘Volunteer of the Year.’

His work with REP has helped him to build community in Brighton, which is still a new home for him, and a chance to relate directly to the people with whom he’s working. “I was in the same situation, so when someone asks me for help, when they tell me they were homeless or ask for ESOL classes, I can understand how hard the language is to learn and I explain that I was also a refugee, and homeless, and now I’m here.”

A Kind of Home

The theme for this year’s annual Refugee Week is ‘what home means to me.’ When asked the question of Faizi, he pauses for a moment to think about it. “Home is a place where I feel safe and surrounded by loved ones, where I can feel comfortable and where I can be real.” He adds that the UK isn’t quite home yet but that it’s becoming a kind of home, helped by the fact that his brother is now only 30 minutes away.

Despite the hurdles he’s overcome, his outlook remains positive. “When people talk about their hard times, when someone talks about losing their brother or father, or how they came to UK, when they tell me their story, I remind myself, it’s okay, it’s good, I cannot complain.”

For now, he’s done volunteering, but it’s only a temporary hiatus he says. “Once I’m more settled in the job and the community, I would like to volunteer again, at least once a week.” And while some people may shy away from being labelled as a refugee, Faizi has no issue with it. “We cannot hide that we are refugees, it doesn’t matter if I say it or not.” His continued work is proof positive of his pride and commitment to others within the British refugee community, whether it’s volunteer work or paid.

For more, contact info@thepalladiumgroup.com.