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ARU refugee initiative features in UN exhibition

Published: 24 October 2023 at 15:14

A Day of Welcome event

Classroom assistant Saeedeh and A Day of Welcome project are highlighted

An initiative to help UK schools provide a warm reception for refugees and asylum seekers is being showcased as part of a new photography exhibition in London staged by UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.

A Day of Welcome was co-founded by Professor Jeannette Baxter of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU). After initially focusing on the East of England, it now works with schools across the UK by providing information and classroom resources to help young people understand more about refugee migration and people seeking sanctuary.

The UNHCR exhibition features portraits taken by Andrew Testa of Panos Pictures, who travelled to Avenue Junior School in Norwich to photograph classroom assistant Saeedeh and pupil Denys, as well as Jeannette and A Day of Welcome co-founder Jake Rose-Brown, who is also a teacher at Avenue Junior.

Before arriving in the UK, Saeedeh had worked as a teacher in Iran for 28 years, including as a headteacher of a primary school. However, after arriving to seek asylum with her sons, she had difficulty finding work as the UK did not recognise her Iranian qualifications.

After initially volunteering at Avenue Junior School, Saeedeh – who also has a role on A Day of Welcome’s advisory board – gained her UK qualifications and became a classroom assistant. Saeedeh now uses her experiences of being a refugee to help forcibly displaced children at the school learn English and adjust to life in the UK. 

One of the pupils Saeedeh is helping is Denys, who is from Kyiv and arrived in the UK following the invasion of Ukraine. Originally Denys could not speak English, so Saeedeh initially communicated with him through body language, but gradually his language skills are improving. “He can communicate with the other children, and little by little he can understand more,” explained Saeedeh.

A Day of Welcome co-founder Jeannette is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and she specialises in helping groups explore issues of refugee migration and social marginalisation through the arts. She said:

“Saeedeh is making such a difference to the lives of young people, like Denys, and it is wonderful that the UNHCR have chosen to feature her work, as well as the wider work of A Day of Welcome in their photography exhibition.”

Since it began in 2018, A Day of Welcome has engaged hundreds of thousands of pupils, aged 4-18, and the advisory board consists entirely of people, like Saeedeh, who have personal experience of the topic. Jeannette added:

“They are an essential part of the project, and they are helping us to shape it as we move forward.”

Vicky Tennant, UNHCR Representative to the UK, said:

“The stories in this exhibition are truly inspiring. People across the UK have generously welcomed refugees and asylum-seekers and are helping them to rebuild their lives in a new home, through integration and friendship. The mutual benefit of supporting and empowering refugees who are in turn contributing their talent, creativity and skills, is evident.”

The exhibition, called “A Great British Welcome”, is on show at More London, near Tower Bridge, until 8 November and is free to attend.


Photo credit: UNHCR/Andrew Testa