World Jewish Relief is the Refugee Employment Network (REN) governance and one of its very first members. World Jewish Relief launched its programme The Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP) in 2016 to assist Syrian refugees arriving in the UK as part of the Government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. The project focuses on ensuring refugees have the requisite language and relevant qualifications to get into work, with each person being assigned an employment manager who guides them through the process with individual and specialist support.
‘’What I would hope with Abdullah is that I can give him confidence, make him feel that he is not alone and that there are people here who care, and want him to succeed.
These are the words of John, a solicitor who has signed up to mentor Abdullah, a Syrian refugee on World Jewish Relief’s Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP). The Mentorship scheme is run in partnership with business in the community.
Abdullah arrived in the UK in 2017. With a degree from Damascus University in Electrical Engineering, and a long career working for a global electronics company, he hoped to gain work in his profession. He and his family were brought to Britain under the government’s Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme, and Abdullah joined the STEP programme in Leeds.
Just before the Covid-19 outbreak, STEP helped Abdullah secure his 1st paid position, working in the print room of a university. It was set to be a turning point in the family’s fortunes, after many years of displacement and trauma. But with the pandemic came the closure of the university and the end of that opportunity.
Abdullah has been using his time well in lockdown, continuing with online English classes provided by STEP and signing up for the mentoring programme, where thanks to video conferencing, he has been meeting up weekly with his mentor John via Zoom and using the sessions to work on his CV, interview skills and conversational English.
Abdullah says “John has given me a lot of valuable ideas. He helps me practice my English and I enjoy talking to him about work and about my experiences in Syria and Jordan. I used to work in a very famous electronic company and John has encouraged me to look for work in the company’s branch here”. In turn John says “If I can make any little difference, that’s a good thing. Abdullah is a lovely guy, who is very well qualified”.
Here is another success story from STEP:
"I am not frightened of Covid 19. I’ve been through war, I’ve seen slaughter and bloodshed, I’ve known hunger and real danger. This is just a disease and I’m not afraid of it".
These are the words of Nadia, a Pharmacist by profession, Nadia fled war-torn Syria and survived harrowing conditions including near starvation in a refugee camp in Lebanon before being brought to the UK under the government’s resettlement scheme.
On arrival in the UK, Nadia spoke no English and believed her only hope for employment was working as a cleaner. Until she joined World Jewish Relief’s Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP) where over a number of years. STEP has been helping her with guidance, funding and other support, to gain the qualifications she needs to work in her profession again.
Her determination and hard work are paying off, with GCSE’s and NVQ’s under her belt, she is now a qualified Pharmacy Technician able to dispense medicines to the public, and she plans to return to university soon to complete her UK degree.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Nadia has travelled two hours by bus each day to get to and from her place of work. While others have stayed home in lockdown she has been determined to do her bit for her adopted community saying:
‘’I want to give back to this country who has hosted me and received me as a refugee. What I’m doing is nothing. I’d like to do more’’.
At the height of the pandemic, the pharmacy experienced long queues from people desperately needing medicines. Nadia wasn’t worried though, she says “We would only allow one person in at a time, we put up screens to help protect us and we are wearing PPE, washing our hands and regularly taking our temperatures”.
Part of Nadia's role as Pharmacy Technician is preparing dosset boxes for elderly patients, helping them to take their medications on time. Sadly, a number of her most loyal customers have lost their lives to Coronavirus. For Nadia, who has elderly parents still living in Syria, the deaths of this clientele has been particularly poignant; “I’m upset about our customers, we have lost five or six to Covid-19 and that’s very sad. When I serve customers, especially the older ones, I feel like they could be my mum or dad, and all I want is to do the best for them”. It has been an intense three months working at the frontline of the crisis, but we are so proud of Nadia and of the STEP programme which has helped her to be in a position to help others during the peak of this terrible disease.