One of our former Action Language learners who came to Newcastle as an asylum seeker is now studying for an MSc at Oxford University – and he has just won a prestigious award.

Destin*, who fled West Africa six years ago, was nominated by one of his tutors in the Academic Excellence category in the Black Impact Awards which support leadership and career development with black students at 30 universities across the UK.

This is the student’s second major academic achievement this year, following his award of a first class honours degree from Northumbria University.

Destin, who is very modest about his success, said it was down to the help, love and support he’s received from people in the North East since he first arrived here.

Action Foundation’s English language teachers have been significant in his life. For example, of his teacher, Libby Selman, he says:

“She is more than a teacher to me, she’s like my adoptive mum.  She means a lot. She’s helped me in so many ways I can’t even express.”

Libby Selman

When Destin was homeless, Libby and her husband, Peter, were lucky to be the first people to welcome him to come and live with them through Action Foundation’s former Action Hosting project.

“These are people who made me feel at home. They just took me in really, they are like family to me.”

As his command of English improved, Destin volunteered as an English teaching assistant for Action Language, as well as giving his time to other charities on Tyneside.

In 2019 he qualified for a Sanctuary Scholarship at Northumbria University, giving him financial help that recognises the unique and difficult circumstances students seeking asylum experience in accessing Higher Education. And last summer he graduated with first class honours.

“That was down to the support of people like Libby and her colleagues, helping me improve my academic language, though I’m still learning – it’s a process!” added Destin, who is studying the theory and practice of democracy in Africa.

Asked what having access to free English classes means to newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees, Destin said:

“It’s crucial to their survival. Language connects people, takes away the barrier and makes you feel part of the community if you will. It was crucial for my survival.”

Scared to go out

He describes how he was ‘scared to go out’ when he first came to Newcastle because he found it so difficult to communicate.

“I was getting lost, it was hard, but I did voluntary work – that’s how I came out of my shell.”

Finding free Action Language classes provided by Action Foundation was a game changer for Destin.

“I went to two different colleges but you couldn’t access mainstream classes unless you had lived in England for over six months so I was hopeless, but I was volunteering at Gateshead Older People’s Assembly and the manager there told me about Action Foundation’s free classes and that was the start of my journey.”

Destin is so grateful for all the support he has had in the North East and loves to come back from Oxford to visit when he can.

His former teacher, Libby, said:  “We  knew Destin was someone special when he walked into the Advanced group’s first class of the year.

“He was so friendly, positive and hardworking and soon moved into a Teaching Assistant role. He was assisting me with Beginner students when it came out that his asylum claim had been rejected and he was destitute.

“Fortunately, Action Foundation was running a hosting scheme at the time, and Peter and I had been trained as hosts and had spare rooms as two of our sons have moved to work abroad. That was the beginning of a mutually enjoyable relationship. But not just with us – the scheme moved Destin between trained hosts who all gave and received friendship – for example, he’s enjoyed staying with Peter Mortimer, the author, In Cullercoats.

“He has masses of friends and supporters and we’re all very proud of his achievements. But he’s still a ‘refused asylum seeker’ as far as the Home Office is concerned.”

  • Destin is a pseudonym to respect our former student’s anonymity