Teenage refugee’s joy after scholarship to Ipswich School ‘changed my life’

PUBLISHED: 06:47 19 October 2020 | UPDATED: 15:50 19 October 2020

Tekle first came into contact with Ipswich School by attending the Suffolk Refugee Support Homework Club. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Tekle first came into contact with Ipswich School by attending the Suffolk Refugee Support Homework Club. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH


This is the story of Tekle - an 18-year-old who fled war and famine before finding a bright future in Ipswich.

Tekle has been given a scholarship to study A-levels at Ipswich School. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHTekle has been given a scholarship to study A-levels at Ipswich School. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

He fled an oppressive, famined country in search of a better life.

And, after a gruelling journey through Sudan, Libya and Europe which would have broken many, this 18-year-old is finally looking forward to the brightest of futures - after winning a scholarship to one of Suffolk’s leading independent schools.

Tekle, whose surname we have agreed not to use, was born in Eritrea but was determined not to stay in a country where he would have to do at least six years of military service and never be free to pursue his dreams.

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Tekle says attending Ipswich School has Tekle says attending Ipswich School has "changed my life". Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

The country, run by a totalitarian dictatorship, has one of the worst human rights records in the world, according to Human Rights Watch - with all its media state controlled and no democratic elections held there since it gained independence in 1993.

It is a world away from the freedom Britons are used to, so Tekle joined the many who try to avoid military service by finding a group which smuggled him abroad when he was aged just 14.

“The reason I left Eritrea was to find peace to be free,” Tekle said.

However, he soon found the other countries he passed through on a perilous journey to safety were far from his ideal, as he had to survive difficult conditions in Sudan and Libya before making his way to Italy, France and Belgium.

Tekle is studying chemistry, physics and maths at Ipswich School. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHTekle is studying chemistry, physics and maths at Ipswich School. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

One day, a group he was with got inside a lorry which was bound for the United Kingdom, where on arrival they were eventually found by Border Force.

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At that stage, officials have to decide whether someone arriving into the country should be deported or allowed to stay.

Judging the then 15-year-old to be a genuine refugee, Border Force placed him into foster care in Grays, Essex - where he found himself in an unfamiliar place, did not know anyone and spoke very little English.

However, when he eventually came to Ipswich to live independently with support from social services, Tekle’s life began to change.

Studying an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course at Suffolk New College and GCSEs at Northgate High School in Ipswich, he gradually built up his English to become fluent and scored highly in his exams - gaining 7s and 8s in maths and science subjects.

While studying for his GCSEs, he attended Suffolk Refugee Support’s Homework Club, which provides support to refugees who need more one-to-one help because English is not their first language.

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Although the sessions were first run at Volunteering Matters, more recently they have been held at Ipswich School in order to provide access to better equipment and facilities.

The independent school was so impressed by Tekle’s progress, it offered him a scholarship to study A-levels in chemistry, maths and physics, starting in autumn 2020.

To Tekle, it shows how Ipswich is open and welcoming to refugees arriving in the most difficult of situations.

“People in Ipswich are so friendly,” he said.

“They want to know about you and are really happy to accept you.

“I have been really impressed with the people I have met so far. They want to help and they want to understand you.

“Ipswich School has changed my life.”

To those who have supported Tekle during his time in Britain, he is an example of the positive contribution immigrants and refugees can make - even at such a young age.

Ipswich School headmaster Nicholas Weaver said: “We first met Tekle at Suffolk Refugee Homework Club, which we host at Ipswich School.

“His thirst for knowledge and motivation impressed us all and we felt sure that he would thrive in our sixth form.

“I am thrilled that our Founding Futures Fund has been able to provide a full bursary for Tekle and I can’t wait to see him develop during his time with us.”

And Ben Cliff, head of sixth form at Ipswich School, said: “Tekle has taken to sixth form life, and A-level study, with impressive confidence.

“His kind and generous manner has endeared him to friends and staff alike, and we are so grateful for the value that he adds by setting such high standards of hard work.

“I taught him Life Skills recently on our Edge programme, in a lesson about public speaking - it was so great to watch as he held his audience for a minute on a topic that means so much to him, speaking with clarity and conviction.”

Tekle said that people who leave their home nations feel it “would be better to live in their country” - but that circumstances make their first choice impossible, meaning they have to seek refuge elsewhere.

He believes people in such circumstances should be shown compassion - because they are fleeing their home countries not out of choice, but out of desperation and in fear for their lives.

Tekle said: “Every country should accept refugees the same as their own citizens.

“No matter where anyone comes from, we’re all the same.”

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