Street fighter turned model citizen

A Kosovan asylum-seeker who started school in Britain badly has transformed himself through volunteer work. And, as Louisa Barnett reports - others are taking the same route

taulant tahiri was just 12 years old when he came from Kosovo as an orphan to live here. He was unsettled and nervous, and would lose his temper easily in class, getting into trouble and hanging out on the streets late at night fighting with other youngsters.

Now 16, he is settled with a foster family in south London, studying for his AS-levels and has turned his life around thanks to the Community Service Volunteers (CSV), a national scheme.

"I volunteer each lunchtime on the playground at my school, making sure that the younger pupils don't get into fights and get back into class on time," he says. "I think they listen to me because I know what it is like to lose my temper and get into trouble.

"When I first came to the school, I didn't speak any English and would get the mickey taken out of me. I had a lot of trouble with some Asian lads, even though I was Muslim too.

"I would hang around on the streets until two in the morning. I remember looking up to older pupils who were volunteering and seeing how they could control themselves and wouldn't swear or lose their temper. I decided that I wanted to be like them.

"I think some people are shocked to see how much I've changed. The younger pupils look up to me, and I'm now usually home by eight each evening.

"My ambitions now are to do well in school, get my A-levels and join the CID."

Monica Brady teaches English as an additional language at George Green school on the Isle of Dogs. She has been working with Taulant for the past four years.

"The change in him has been unbelievable," she says. "When he first came, he was really difficult and in a bad crowd. He'd been through a lot - his mother had died of cancer and his father never came back from war - so he was understandably traumatised.

"Since he's been volunteering he's been amazing. He passed some GCSEs and has been working really hard.

"It was always in him, but the volunteering has brought out his skills and talents and given him a huge amount of confidence. He's a very special person."

Last month, the volunteer service published a report on how volunteering can help schools play a leading role in supporting and protecting young people and ensuring they reach their full potential.

As part of the vision outlined in Every Child Matters, the green paper that led to the Children Act of 2004, schools are encouraged to provide services and activities (often beyond the school day), to help meet the needs of youngsters and the wider community.

Peter Hayes, the service's director of education, says: "Every Child Matters and the Children Act 2004 point strongly to the wider involvement of families and communities in the development of young people. Increased citizenship through volunteering provides a way."

Jonas Rathfelder, a 19-year-old from Germany, is a full-time volunteer at Callington community college in south-east Cornwall, working with pupils in PSHE and citizenship lessons.

"I give talks on Germany, the European Union and international issues," he says. "I think it's extremely important that pupils meet and learn about people from other countries."

He says that pupils also get involved in active citizenship and volunteering at local hospitals and people's homes.

"Volunteering at the college has been brilliant," he says. "It has been really interesting to see the different cultural attitudes towards education between my country and here. In Germany, if you don't want to work hard, that's your loss. But, in the UK, the teacher always pushes you to study.

"Another difference is that the school feels responsible for their pupils even when they've gone home for the day."

To find out more about the report or enquire about volunteering in schools, visit

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