Surjan is a social worker in Leicester, who has given life-changing support to many young people trying to make a new life in the city. Numbers of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children are rising steeply in Leicester and the surrounding region, with many young people travelling a long way, alone, to find refuge from war, violence, terror and threats of death in their home countries.
The adjustment these young people have to make is huge, at a very young age. Many have left behind their families, endured torturous conditions and dangerous travel, and arrive in this unfamiliar city, attempting to make their way independently at just 14 or 15 years old.
Surjan works with these young people. She spends time getting to know them, their culture and their background and asks the right questions at the right time to provide sensitive and loving support as they attempt to claim asylum and begin to rebuild their lives. There are many examples of how Surjan has made transformative impact on these young lives; by tuning in and ensuring that support is tailored as much as possible to their needs. I learned that she identified a particular group of young people who were used to sleeping on mats on the floor, and found the idea of a raised bed really unsettling. She was able to educate local providers in the cultural nuances of this group, so that they provided sleeping mats as well as beds when a new young person arrived. This just meant that the environment was as familiar and welcoming as possible, resembling home a little more than it would have otherwise. The young people could make the transition to sleeping in a bed in their own time, if they wanted to.
In our time working together, Surjan’s phone never stops pinging and ringing, her young people getting in touch whenever they need advice, support or just a chat. Many of them respectfully call her ‘Auntie’, a term used culturally in many communities to refer to a revered and wise female. This is more than a job to Surjan, on her days off she still has these young people in her mind. A group of young Muslims had arrived shortly before the festival of Eid, and were trying to find a way to celebrate together this most important of religious annual milestones. They lacked the skills to pull anything more than a basic meal together. Surjan spent her weekend cooking up a chicken feast and hand delivered it to their home just in time for Eid. She didn’t even mention the fact she’s a vegetarian…
It is my hope that if my own children ever found themselves in a strange country, alone, without me to protect and love them, they would have a Surjan to guide them in this most gentle and thoughtful way. Thanks for all you do Surjan.