We are grateful to Fahim, who has kindly shared his story as part of Refugee Week.
My name is Mohammed Fahim Zazai and I came to the UK at the end of 1999 as a refugee. As with many refugees, I had to leave my country of Afghanistan due to the ongoing war and conflict.
When I first arrived in the UK, I was happy to be safe but very sad at the same time. I had no family, no friends, no understanding of local culture and law, and I could not speak English at all. It was very hard to live on my own without family.
I had to start my life from zero and start learning English as I was eager to speak to people and make new friends in the UK. Many refugees I knew wanted to move to London and other big cities, but because I didn’t know anyone who could help me, I couldn’t move anywhere and had to stay in Walsall.
I was one of the first Afghans to arrive in Walsall. It has been a very difficult start as there was not much support available for refugees in Walsall. I had to struggle with many things in life but I was determined to move on.
Nearly a year after arriving in the UK, I was able to communicate with people in English. I learnt soon after that many more refugees had arrived in Walsall. I was constantly asked by newly arrived refugees and migrants to help and support them by providing interpretation at different places such as GP surgeries, hospitals and sharing my experience with them.
I know how hard it is when you cannot speak the language and don’t know where you can get the help you need. I did not want other refugees to face the same difficulties as I did so kept working as a volunteer to support them.
My home became my base and office, and I was working, studying and volunteering at the same time. The number of refugees increased, especially those from Afghanistan. The demand for the support service also increased so I decided to set up an organisation called the Afghan Community and Welfare Centre in 2007 to help and support newly arrived migrant families, asylum seekers and refugees from different countries.
Working as a volunteer and supporting people in the community has taught me many things and equipped me with valuable experience in life.
I came to the UK with absolutely nothing. I will be forever thankful to this country for giving me a chance to start a new life in safety and the opportunity to thrive. I was naturalised as a British Citizen in 2007.
Since coming to the UK, I wanted to contribute and give something back to the community. I wanted to play an active part in wider society.
I first worked at a local supermarket, then as professional interpreter and translator and at Staffordshire County Council. Most of all, I am proud of my community work. I was one of the game makers at the London 2012 Olympic Games and recognised as Volunteer of the Year twice by whg and One Walsall.
I spend between 20 and 25 hours per week providing support services to anyone in need. I can proudly say that I have been able to support hundreds of individuals and families over the years from different communities through the organisation I have set up. It is about supporting newly arrived families and refugees to better integrate and be an active part of society.
I now have everything I need: my family, many friends and the community. Walsall is what I call my home now, I have struggled to engage and find common ground with other communities, but I am a positive thinker. I love the diverse communities in Walsall and I am proud to be part of it. We may have had a different past but we certainly have a shared future. I want to work and engage with all the communities in Walsall, where we can learn from each other, share our knowledge and expertise. We can do much more together to make Walsall a better place for everyone, more welcoming and most of all, a difference in people’s lives."