By Tara O’Connor, local democracy reporter
15 years after coming to the UK as a child refugee, Adam Yasir has taken to the road in a campervan to provide support to children in care.
Adam, who now lives in Thornton Heath, was just 15-years-old when he fled Sudan alone for a safer life in England.
He was smuggled here, an experience he doesn’t remember much of except for it being ‘terrifying’ and was placed in a children’s home in Croydon by Surrey County Council, which was his corporate parent.
The 30-year-old said: “My uncle said you are going to be in a safer place, if I stayed the militia would recruit me.
“I was smuggled out from there, I didn’t really know much about the journey. I reflected back on it during my teenage years and tried to connect the dots.
“I remember going through France and on to the UK. It was terrifying.
“I have contact with some of my family, most of the male part of my family left the region to other places including Chad, Uganda and South Sudan. On my mum’s side of the family most are in refugee camps.”
As a 15-year-old in a new country with no family around him, Adam was determined to get a good education and go on to help others in his situation.
He was first educated at a centre run by the Refugee Council where he learnt English before going to Croydon College.
“One of the social workers kept telling me why do you want to study, they said why don’t you go and work at Pizza Hut,” he said.
“I wanted to do it for a lot of people from my family who didn’t have that opportunity, that is the privilege of accessing education. I am passionate and eager to learn new things.
“I had every reason not to pursue education but I didn’t give up.”
At the age of 18 he had been accepted to study at Goldsmiths University but at the same time his asylum claim was rejected by the Home Office.
He did not give up his dream of going to university and after challenging the case for 18 months he was granted asylum and went on to study international politics and development at East London University.
He has also completed a masters in human rights and international relations at Roehampton University.
In 2018 he set up the 3E Scholarship Scheme to help young people affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy go to university.
He petitioned universities to get involved and the scheme has allowed 39 people to access higher education.
His time living in the care system has led Adam to become an advocate for young people in the same situation he was.
Adam said: “It was really tough, I had six homes within three years. You were moved with your belongings in plastic bin bags, it was traumatic.
“I find young people, particularly from BAME communities, become statistics in the care system. Advocacy work is rewarding, to be able to make it easier for young people to get justice.”
He is now a full time self-employed advocate for young people and works with a range of local councils across London and the south.
Over the lockdown Adam has converted a van into a campervan he uses as a mobile office for his work and drives around to appointments with young people.
Adam remembers being called to go into the office to meet with managers by his social workers and knows it can be stressful even getting the money to get to the appointment.
“It was quite intimidating,” he said. “I used to say, ‘can we not have a meeting at home?
“In the can I go as far as Brighton, I pull up and we have complete privacy. It is quite unique.”
He says the van provides a safe space for young people and their social workers to meet as well as makes it easy to do outreach work and provide practical and emotional support.
“The young people love it,” he added.
And in the last few months he has been using the van as a portable fitness centre for some of the young people he works with, providing boxing and football training.
“During the pandemic there has been a lot said about the impact on the vulnerable elderly in homes, but not as much about young people and children in foster care or children’s homes.
“They faced challenges too, some were in foster care with just adults who were working, children want to get out and do something different.
“A lot of young people I work with are unaccompanied asylum seekers.”
Adam wants to continue his advocacy work and has ambitions to continue his studies, he has applied to do another masters at Oxford University.
Alongside this, he wants to build on what has already been achieved by the 3E Scholarship scheme by linking with more universities to help both those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and others facing discrimination and marginlistaion.
He says that his dream would be to offer a scholarship to a British university to somebody from a refugee camp in the next five years.