From fleeing war to inspiring others: a Sanctuary Scholar’s story

04 July 2023

From fleeing war to inspiring others: a Sanctuary Scholar’s story

As a University of Sanctuary located in the UK’s first ever City of Sanctuary, Sheffield Hallam is proud to welcome refugee/asylum seeker students a safe route into higher education.

Every Sanctuary Scholar at the University has a remarkable story. Yordanos is a Sanctuary Scholar currently studying for a BSC (Hons) Nursing (Mental Health) and recently won the Inspirational Student Award for Inspiring Individual. Yordanos graduates this November and this is her story. . .

My name is Yordanos Tesfamariam Gebrehiwot, I am originally from Tigray in the northern part of Ethiopia. I grew up in a big family with my three brothers, two sisters, and my dad. I arrived in the UK in January 2014, which gave me mixed feelings. Leaving the people I love, the surroundings I grew up in and my whole childhood was a very sad indescribable feeling. Arriving in a new country, where I knew I was safe, was also another indescribable feeling.

I struggled to settle in as I migrated from my country alone. The language barriers (back home we only speak the Amharic language or Tigrigna), and the cultural differences were a huge challenge for me. For example, I remember seeing a counsellor and she once said the simple phrase ‘it’s up to you’. I remember how sad I was at this because the equivalent interpretation in my language is ‘go to hell’. Thinking of it now, I find it funny and I laugh, but it shows how challenging the initial move was.

My Dream

Throughout my journey, my dream of going to university to study to become a mental health nurse never changed. My passion to become a mental health nurse first began when I was 17 years old. My mum died when I was seven and my older brother started to take drugs, going through all kinds of emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuse. In my country, mental health is stigmatised - you are either spoiled or crazy. As a result, nobody wanted to give him a second chance to properly grieve for our loss. He wasn’t getting substance misuse support or any kind of support for his trauma and abuse.

It is not because nobody wanted to help, but nobody knew about mental health and mental wellbeing. Since then, I decided to become a mental health professional.

Route to higher education

My journey to enrolling at university was not easy. I went to Sheffield College in 2018 to do an access course where I also did my Maths and English GCSEs. Upon completion of this course, I applied to Hallam but unfortunately, my student loan application was rejected by Student Finance England. I had to wait a further year to apply again and yet again it was rejected.

These setbacks tested my resilience and I started to lose hope, but thankfully, I was able to pursue my dream through the Sanctuary Scholarship programme. This programme revived my hopes and dreams. It lightened my life once more when I felt hopeless and deeply saddened; it decorated my sky with sparkling hope as I now knew I was marching down my dream path.

Plans for the future

Once I graduate, my aim is to further study to become a psychiatrist and open a rehabilitation centre for young people aged 13-26 who are addicted to drugs, alcohol and are sexually exploited.

It was my brother who inspired me to take this route because he was eventually afforded a second chance. I want to be able to provide this second chance to others should they need it. This is a natural career for me as I’ve always enjoyed assisting others, regardless of their backgrounds. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be supported to explore their inner strength.

Above all, society has helped me to be a better person and offered me an opportunity to live my dream, so I want to give back to society.

Inspirational Student Award

I felt honoured to be nominated for the Inspirational Individual Award. I’ve worked hard to be in a better place and I’ve grabbed each opportunity, but never did I think it could inspire others.

The nomination came at a good time as I was feeling overwhelmed with financial struggles, carer responsibility, academic work, placement hours and losing contact with my family back home for 2.5 years because of the civil war. I was motivated to refresh myself and it was like a new engine was implanted in me again.

To actually win the award, was another level of happiness. It means a lot that people around me recognised me and that they are inspired by my story. I was so happy, and I am still happy.

Yordanos’s journey could not have been made possible without a Sanctuary Scholarship, funded through generous donations to the Hallam Fund by alumni and supporters of the University.

If you would like to help a student like Yordanos, visit our Hallam Fund donation page.