01 December 2017

Imagine leaving your family behind, travelling thousands of miles through several continents for a better life – at the age of 17!

That’s exactly what student Solomie Yemane, 27, did. Today she’s studying for a degree in law at Middlesex University and is hoping to help asylum seekers like herself in the future.

Solomie (pictured below with Middlesex University Vice Chancellor Tim Blackman, Linh Hawke from Optivo, and Middlesex Chancellor Dame Janet Ritterman) is the winner of our Study4Success Award, which provides free accommodation in one of our halls of residences to one deserving first-year Middlesex student.

The prize goes to those who have made a positive impact in their community.

Since arriving in the UK from Eritrea ten years ago, Solomie has given her free time volunteering for causes across the South of England which help to settle asylum seekers in the UK.

The panel of judges were impressed with her dedication to helping others, and her determination to better her life against all odds.

Linh Hawke, National Operations Manager for Students at Optivo, said: “When we received Solomie’s story and learnt of the work she had undertaken in support of asylum seekers we knew that we had found our Study4Sucess scholar. This is our small way of recognising her hard work and being able to give back to her in return”.

Solomie's story

I was just 17 when I came to England from Eritrea for a better life; I wanted to go to university and study law.
It was difficult – especially to leave my siblings and my mum behind – but they understood. My mum wanted me to thrive and go to university.

I travelled for months to get to the UK – never thinking about the dangers I was putting myself through.
I don’t remember really feeling afraid until I got to England. I didn’t speak a word of English and everything was so new – the clothes, the people, and the food. I couldn’t find any Eritrean ingredients so I lived off pasta for a long time!

For several years I lived in Kent. A social worker helped me to find a college where I could learn English.
The language barrier can be extremely frustrating. That’s how I first got into volunteering work. I went to the British Red Cross for help and noticed other Eritrean asylum seekers there who could not speak English so I began helping out as an interpreter.

From there I supported asylum seekers with integration, showing them how to set themselves up with English lessons and register with a GP as well as contact the Home Office and legal services available.

I went on to work with the Ethnic Youth Support Team, helping young people to write CVs and find jobs. Later I joined Women For Resources and worked on a project to build a library for women in Kenya.

My volunteer work was incredibly satisfying and I got to meet people from all over the world and hear their stories.

But I had almost given up hope of going to university. As the years went on, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to afford it.

If it hadn’t been for my work with asylum seekers and my experience as an asylum seeker myself, I don’t think I would have pushed myself to try harder to get to university and do a law degree.

I had found very few lawyers outside of London who specialised in immigration law – especially one who had been an asylum seeker. I wanted to learn about law to help others.

Middlesex University is one of a few who offer immigration law as a module – so I went for it and got in. I also managed to secure a loan to help me financially.

I’d got over one hurdle, but then I worried about paying for accommodation on top of other costs like books, which aren’t cheap.

When I saw the Study4Success Award I applied straight away, but I didn’t hold on to much hope that I’d be successful. I didn’t think I was good enough.

I was amazed when I was told I had won, and I’m so grateful for the support it’s provided me. I’m now living in Writtle House, close to the campus, with other mature students. I’ve settled in well and made some great friends.

Now I can focus on my studies and not worry about how I’m going to fund this year. The first year is the foundation of my career and I want to do well. I feel I can do that now.

I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved – and so is my mum! I’d like to think my story shows you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.


Find out more about the award