Poem celebrates joy of civil war family

10th February 2006 at 00:00
Ten-year-old "Pablo" is an asylum-seeker who experienced the horrors of civil war and family break-up before fleeing from the central African country he called home. When he arrived in Newport with his mother and older brother in late 2003, he thought his father and older sister were dead.

So his start at one of the authority's primary schools in December that year did not go smoothly. Pablo found it difficult to adapt to the normal school demands and routines. He became disruptive and unco-operative in class. He was showing clear signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

His teachers referred Pablo for assessment for emotional, social and behavioural difficulties. As a result, he was given full-time, one-to-one support and counselling. This produced a steady improvement in his emotional state and behaviour.

Two years on, he is a very different boy. He is good at art and enjoys playing football. Since joining a football team in the spring of 2004, he has integrated much more with other children.

And he was overjoyed to discover in the summer of 2005 that, contrary to his worst fears, his father and sister had not been killed after all: they too had been able to escape and flee to the UK. Since they were reunited, he has been much happier and more settled.

This transformation culminated in his winning the top prize in a Newport competition during Black History month last autumn for a poem called "We are the people of Newport". This reflected the traumas he had been through and his new-found ability to express them through poetry. And he stood in front of 100 people to claim his prize - a feat that would have been unthinkable two years ago.

His is one of the many success stories achieved with the help of the Gwent Ethnic Minority Support Service (Gemss) which is based in Newport. It has been supporting asylum-seekers since they started to be dispersed to the city in September 2002.

The asylum team, consisting of teachers, bilingual staff and administrative support, was established in March 2004 with funding from the Welsh Assembly. Newport has 150 pupils from asylum-seeker families - the third largest number in Wales after Cardiff and Swansea. They represent 26 different nationalities and 22 different languages and are spread among 21 nursery, primary and secondary schools .

"We try to promote the importance of a child's home or first language by encouraging them to enter GCSE in that subject," says Rachel Tiupancal of Gemss. In the past two years, two Newport schools have entered 10 asylum-seeker pupils for GCSE in Year 10 in Punjabi, Bengali, Russian, Persian, Arabic and Turkish. All were passed with A-star to B grades.

At Lliswerry high school, one pupil passed A-star in maths five months after arriving in the UK. At Duffryn high school, two pupils achieved five or more top grades and a further three achieved A-star to C in two subjects. All are going on to do A levels.

WE ARE THE PEOPLE OF NEWPORT

My Dad's name is Cassuto, He comes from Africa, He is handsome and tall, He likes rugby and Coca-Cola.

Dad was a soldier at the age of 14, Teenagers don't know that scene, He was shot in the leg by the enemy's gun, Being shot when you're 20 isn't much fun.

He likes fruit and ice cream, He eats beans on toast, He likes crisps and pizza, He likes fish the most!

Mum and I came to Newport when I was in Year 4, I felt I couldn't take any more, Then we had the happiest phone call, To say Dad was not in Africa at all!

He used to live in Huddersfield, He started to come down on a train, It was nice to have Dad living so near, I was glad we were a family again.

He now lives in Newport, He comes to my football games, To cheer for me and see me play, He even danced for our school yesterday!

Pablo is a pseudonym

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