Shukria came to the UK in 9th July, as Afghanistan found itself in the grips of the Taliban’s insurgency. A wife and mother of three, she lived in Kabul with her family and was a full-time mother. She told us:
“In Afghanistan, there was no opportunity for women to work outside the home.”
Her family initially lived in limbo, in a hotel in Manchester. Shukria immediately noticed the ways that British culture was different and unfamiliar from what she knew:
“In Afghanistan, I wasn’t allowed to go outside without my husband. I couldn’t get a job, go shopping, or even go to the park. So when I arrived in the UK I was nervous and refused to do these things alone. I couldn’t speak English, so even if I wanted to I couldn’t just go to the shop or pharmacy and get what I needed.”
Shukria’s family were soon moved to a permanent home in Bradford, where a volunteer recommended that she join World Jewish Relief’s STEP Forward programme, run in partnership with Horton Housing Association.
STEP Forward is a programme tailored to women refugees, supporting them in a warm, communal environment with everything from English language to computer literacy. At the end of the programme, women have the skills and confidence to feel empowered to make decisions about their futures.
“The most useful parts of the programme are the classes in computer literacy, English, and maths. I have also made new friends, and met amazing teachers. I know that whenever I need help with anything, my teachers will help me.”
She highly recommends that any woman refugee arriving in the UK joins the programme, which has had an immense impact on her life here:
“A lot has changed in my life since I started spending two mornings a week at the STEP Forward programme. For example, when I dropped my children at school I didn’t used to understand what anyone was saying. Now I can go anywhere and have no problem. When people speak to me I can respond.
It has given me a feeling of freedom.”
STEP Forward has also given Shukria the space to think about her ambitions for her future:
“First, I want to improve my English. But in the future I want to go to college and university, and then become a hairdresser and beautician. This is a big step, because where I am from women can’t work at all”
“It’s very important to refugees that we have a space that is only for women, where we can speak freely about our lives, and laugh freely together”
But the benefits of STEP Forward are felt by the whole family. Shukria’s husband Malik said”
“I feel very happy for my wife. As long as she is adapting to life here, things are easier for us all. At the beginning when we had problems, and things to organise or buy, I had to deal with them. Now we can solve them 50:50. We strive to be a team. I hope that Shukria goes to university in the future; if she does, I will be very happy for her!”
STEP Forward is one of World Jewish Relief’s programmes for refugees in the UK, born out of our original award-winning Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP), set up in 2016, which helps 1,000 refugees every year to find work and become independent.