Refugees who have played pivotal roles in their communities have been honoured at the prestigious national volunteering awards ceremony, the CSV Year of the Volunteer Awards.
Refugee Council volunteer Roland Agbor from Birmingham was named Regional Champion for his inspirational work at the Refugee Council and other organisations. Emmanuel Fuh Neba, from Derby, became National Champion in the category of Partnership for his work in the local Derby community.
As part of the Year of the Volunteer 2005, CSV invited individuals and organisations to nominate people who they thought epitomised the spirit and dedication of volunteering. From these nominations, 2,005 medals were presented to people of all ages and backgrounds across England, with several medals given to refugee volunteers nominated by the Refugee Council. From these, 45 people were short-listed in 5 categories, with Roland and Emmanuel among those being selected for honours.
Volunteering helped Roland, 41, to rebuild his shattered life when he moved to the UK from Cameroon. He became involved with a diverse range of voluntary work, including working alongside fellow refugees with the Refugee Council, and environmental conservation for the BTCV.
Roland, a biochemist in Cameroon, was forced to flee his native country because he was persecuted by the Government for studying the history of his country—a forbidden topic in Cameroon. Having had to leave his wife and children behind, Roland has had to battle with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety brought on by his persecution in his home country.
As a volunteer with the Refugee Council, he worked with other refugees and asylum seekers, helping them to avoid homelessness and destitution by ensuring they receive skilled advice from him as soon as possible. He then refers them on to the British Red Cross or the Salvation Army, who help to provide them with food, clothes and accommodation.
Refugee Council Volunteer Coordinator, Eleanor Harrison said:
“Roland is a wonderful man who has an ability to have an impact on everyone he meets.”
“Roland is very good at getting people involved and getting people moving. His ability to engage with people is one of his best qualities—he challenges you and he makes you laugh—and if you can make people laugh you’re winning the battle!” she says. “He’s happy to sit down and talk to anyone, which is a great way to push integration.”
Roland now has a full-time job as a Refugee Link Officer, using skills he developed while volunteering with the Refugee Council.
Urginia Mauluka, another volunteer with the Refugee Council, received one of the CSV medals for her volunteering work and was given the additional honour of speaking at a Year of the Volunteer ceremony at Guildhall in London. In an emotional and well-received speech, witnessed by the Lord Mayor of the City of London and 200 other volunteers, Urginia said:
“With my experience as a photographer, I now work as a volunteer with the Refugee Council taking photographs for a variety of events and activities. I would like to thank Anna Lodge from the Refugee Council, who I now regard as a mentor, for helping me find my way with the camera again through all the encouragement and support.”
Urginia spoke about her experience as a photographer in Zimbabwe, learning from her grandfather Papa D then being subjected to beatings from the government and police.
“I would like to dedicate this award to Papa D as I was not able to attend his funeral because of my immigration status. I will confess to you all today that apart from everything that has happened to me physically, missing my grandfather’s funeral was the hardest thing I had to deal with emotionally,” she said.
Emmanuel Fuh Neba, a refugee who also fled Cameroon, was chosen as National Champion in the category of ‘Partnership’ for his work in the local Derby community where he plays a pivotal role building bridges between refugees and their host communities. His work combats negative stereotypes and increases understanding in the Derby population, and helps refugees themselves integrate fully into society through volunteering, learning English and finding employment.
Emmanuel was forced to flee from his home country, Cameroon, after peaceful political protests put his life in danger. “Creating an awareness of why people become refugees reduces the negative stereotype attached to refugees and builds community cohesion,” he says.
Emmanuel was recently voted Chairman of the Derby Refugee Forum and is a member of the Derby Community Safety Partnership, Derby Minority Ethnic Advisory Council and Derby Cultural Diversity project. As Amnesty International UK section speaker for schools, colleges and universities in the East Midlands, he makes a huge positive impact on young people’s perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers.
During the Year of the Volunteer, the Refugee Council teamed up with CSV as part of Citizenship Month in October, organising a volunteering fair at the Brixton office. Several organisations, including the Royal Free Hospital and Fair Trade Foundation, met with asylum seekers to discuss how they gain valuable skills through volunteering.