In 2003 Valerie Makanza fled the violence in her home country of Zimbabwe for a new life in the UK. Eleven years later she is finally getting her life back on track thanks to an “inspiring” FE college. Here, she shares her story as part of Refugee Week 2014:
It’s when the land grabs started in Zimbabwe that I decided I had to leave and come to England. The violence was really bad. I came here alone in 2003 when I was 17. I was so young. When I arrived here, I applied for asylum.
My mum was already here, but she has a different surname from me so I couldn’t trace her – or even prove to the authorities that she existed – so I had to go through the process on my own.
I was held in detention centres in different places for about six months altogether. You have to fend for yourself in those places. It’s terrible there, to see young kids and mums being held. I understood what suicidal thoughts were, staring at four walls, being scared. It’s very tough on the children, and you see your friends being deported. It’s not a pretty sight.
Eventually I was released and given a room in a house in Bristol. It wasn’t fit to be lived in, but I had no choice. I had no money, but was allowed a weekly voucher for food.
For the next seven years I was in limbo, waiting for my case to go through the system. It’s such a long period of time. My solicitor helped me, but it was so tough.
During that time, I decided to leave Bristol and I came to London. But when I went to the job centre to try to get work, all the employers wanted me to have work experience. And there was a gap on my CV for the time I had been in England, so they wouldn’t take me on.
I wanted to get on with my education. I tried to enrol at college but no one would fund me because they didn’t know if I would be deported back home before the end of the course. They didn’t want to waste their money on me. So that door was closed to me, too.
I tried everything. It was a very tough time for me.
Eventually I got refugee status and a British passport. You can imagine how relieved I was. I was very keen to get on with my education, and I became a student at Croydon College.
First I did an English course and now I’m training to be a nursery nurse. I'm doing a level 2 BTEch in Health and Social Care.
I support myself through my studies with two jobs. I work at the local gym in the evenings during the week and at weekends I work at the hospital.
Everyone at college is so nice. At last I’m settled. I can make friends and look to the future. I know what my future holds.
The college has inspired me. It makes me strong. The staff make me feel I can do everything. They’re encouraging even when I’m down.
I feel so sad for the younger generation still in Zimbabwe. They have no future, no job prospects.
I wish someone would help them as I’ve been helped.
Get more information about Refugee week 2014 here.