Sirak is from Eritrea and has lived in the UK and the North East for the past 20 years. Having seen at first-hand how Action Foundation has supported people from Eritrea and knowing the excellent service received through Action Housing, Letting and our ESOL classes, Sirak was very keen to get involved with our work. With a deep spiritual connection to the church and the Eritrean congregation that he is actively involved with, he set up a link and support network. Being able to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds has been his passion and focus with a desire to give something back. When he was approached earlier this year to become a Trustee at Action Foundation, Sirak was delighted to accept.
Due to his religious beliefs, Sirak arrived as a refugee in the UK in 1998 and claimed asylum at Heathrow airport. He was placed temporarily in a hostel in London before being dispersed by the Home Office to the North East. In April 1999, having spent 2 weeks in Sunderland, he found a hostel in Newcastle and later moved into a council flat. His love of this city started then (despite admitting that he supports Manchester United!). For the first few months Sirak didn’t have a work permit but with his sunny disposition and friendly personality, he sold the ‘Big Issue’ magazine and was soon making quite a lot of money “people inherently want to help you” said Sirak. Once his work permit was issued, he found employment quite easily working for the Refugee Service as an interpreter, assisting the police, courts and the NHS. Sirak knows only too well the reality of high rents in the city and for someone earning low wages in a part time job, life can be very hard. He had soon saved up enough money to purchase his first rental property and is now a successful landlord, owning and managing properties in the region.
Before seeking asylum from Eritrea, Sirak, who comes from a well-off family, worked in accounting and was the Senior Budget Controller for the Ministry of Finance. Once settled in the North East, he continued his academic studies by completing a Masters’ in Business Administration at Sunderland University and this business acumen has led him to setting up several charitable and community organisations:
‘Investing in People and Culture’ was set up by Sirak 8 years ago. It works with small refugee groups e.g. The Eritrean Community Organisation, to help them to build their organisational capabilities, fundraising potential and policies and procedures.
‘The Other Perspective’ is a community interest company that provides an entrepreneurial platform for refugees with a focus on capacity building for businesses in the catering, interpreting and cleaning sectors. They also provide office space and hall hire for different refugee groups (e.g. Roma, Syria, Congo) in Newcastle, Gateshead and Middlesbrough.
Sirak is truly settled in the North East, having married a ‘Geordie lass’, and family life, together with his faith and his work makes him extremely happy!