17 June 2020

In celebration of STAR’s 25th birthday, we took the time to reconnect and share the stories of some of the people who made it possible for STAR to be where it is today. There are thousands more of you out there. Each and every one of you is amazing. You are the change-makers, who through the decades have strived to positively impact the lives of refugees and create a welcoming society in the UK. We are proud to share some of your stories in Refugee Week 2020.

We have also created a beautiful timeline of the stories – do have a look!

Who can become part of the Hearts of STAR?

The Hearts of STAR is a project dedicated to honouring and sharing the stories of some of the people who have been part of the STAR story. It is a project that looks at the people behind the organisation, the students, staff, volunteers, trustees, friends of STAR, and anyone who was impacted by STAR and its work. These people are the have chosen to welcome people seeking asylum, educate society, and lead the path for change. They have helped to build bridges between refugees and their new communities to create a welcoming environment.

There are countless more people who have and are continuing to work with STAR to welcome refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK, people whose stories are not shared yet and we want to honour and thank them all for the amazing work they’ve done to create a welcoming society with STAR. Please get in touch with Jamala [Jamala@star-network.ac.uk] if you would like to be featured as a Heart of STAR.

Here we share snips of their story, you can read the full story by clicking on the link under each person.

A Heart of STAR 1994

Andy Davies

Andy Davies is one of the founding committee members of Nottingham STAR, the first-ever STAR society group started in 1994 but he first pitched the idea of STAR in 1992. Andy is now a Correspondent for Channel 4 News.

“The concept of a group like STAR just seemed to strike a chord with so many students. The response I had when I set up the first stall, seeking members, was remarkable. There was huge enthusiasm for the idea and that brought a wonderful energy to the whole project.”

Read more about Andy’s story.

Elly Hargreave

Elly Hargreave is one of the founding committee members of the first-ever STAR society group and the founder and first CEO of STAR as an official charity. Elly is now Captain at Pedal People.

“The first refugee I knowingly met was a former lecturer in his home country. He got in touch having seen our posters and we met him one evening in a pub. We listened to his story and ideas. It really stayed with me. I remember him and remember my 19-year-old self clearly thinking at the time ‘if more people met and talked with refugees things would be much better’. Quite a young man in his early 30s his story of isolation and missing his family (his wife and daughter could not join him and he’d not seen them in several years) was shocking and incredibly sad.”

Read Elly’s full story.

A Heart of STAR 1997

Nicola Witcombe

Nicola Witcombe first joined Edinburgh STAR, started Newcastle STAR and then went on to become a trustee of STAR and is currently an Editor of a research dissemination website.

“What kept me involved through the years was not only the outrage in seeing the gradual erosion of legal provision, the introduction of dispersal, and the diminishing of refugee rights generally but the people I met and worked with along the way – too many interesting people to mention here!”

Continue reading Nicola’s story.

A Heart of STAR 1998

Concetta Perôt

Concetta Perôt was STAR’s Chair of Trustees in 1998 and is now a Psychotherapist and an activist-researcher in the field of trauma and mental health.

“The fact that it shapes the mindsets of people as they launch into their careers and creates empathy, welcome, solidarity, and action with refugees – needed now more than ever.”

Read on to find out more about Concetta’s STAR experience.

A Heart of STAR 1999

Ruth Pryce

Ruth Pryce was the first-ever ‘Volunteer Network Coordinator’ at STAR and later on become CEO of STAR. Ruth is now Head of Programmes: Young People at Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

“STAR also introduced me to the challenge of raising funds for this vital activity – and as a result, when I left STAR I wanted to work for those with the resources, the grantmakers, Trusts, and Foundations – to try to make it a bit easier for charities like STAR to access funds. I am still pursuing that challenge today…”

Continue reading Ruth’s story

Leila Zadeh

Leila Zadeh first joined Birmingham STAR & then Essex STAR, Leila is currently the Executive Director of UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG).

“Thanks to STAR, my first full-time job was with people seeking asylum. I’ve worked in other sectors since then, but three years ago I returned to working with people seeking asylum when I became the executive director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group. STAR launched my career and the passion it ignited in me for the rights of refugees never went away.”

Find out more about Leila’s journey.

A Heart of STAR 2002

Jonathan Ellis

Jonathan Ellis was a STAR Trustee and a long time friend of STAR, he is currently Project Director at Detention Forum and national Chair at City of Sanctuary.

“I love STAR. I have always sought a connection with you in whatever I have been doing from Oxfam, to Refugee Council, to Red Cross, to City of Sanctuary and now at Detention Forum. And I hope to see STAR groups getting more involved in the campaigning to challenge the use of immigration detention.”

Read on Jonathan’s story.

A Heart of STAR 2009

Shrouk El-Attar

Shrouk El Attar joined Cardiff STAR unofficially in 2009. At the time she wasn’t able to go to university because she was seeking asylum and had to wait until 2013 when she was granted refugee status to start studying. Today she is a badass engineer and a trustee of the STAR charity.

“STAR has shaped who I am. My life completely changed and I can trace it all back to my involvement with STAR, even though I didn’t enter it for that reason. I know that if someone volunteers with STAR, it could change their life, but even if it didn’t, at the very least they would be transforming other people’s lives, giving people access to the tools they wouldn’t have had access to so that they can reach their full potential.”

Read on for more on Shrouk’s story

Hearts of STAR 2013

Natasha Chilambo

Natasha Chilambo was a member of Cardiff STAR and Student Network Assistant at the STAR national office, she is now completing her medical degree and is the Co-Founder and Chair of ACMA UK (Caribbean Medical Association).

“I have a much deeper appreciation of the experiences of people from refugee backgrounds. This makes me a much better advocate within my medical field. STAR has also inspired and pushed me to continue my activism work: without it, I don’t think I would have had the insight or courage to start a charity myself.”

Continue reading Natasha’s story

Sophie Morbey

Sophie was a member of Warwick STAR in 2013, she is the Youth and Community Organiser, Oxfam GB and has worked with STAR on many projects including the recent Museum Without a Home tour. Sophie currently volunteers with STAR national office in her spare time.

“Campaigning for change with STAR on my campus was one of the most worthwhile, meaningful, and powerful things I did whilst at university.” 

Continue reading.

A Heart of STAR 2014

Mohamed AL-Kaisi

Mohamed started the first STAR group in Croydon college and then STAR Greenwich and successfully campaigned for Equal Access scholarships at the University of Greenwich. Mohamed is now pursuing an MSc Data Science.

“I joined STAR when I was a refugee at college because I was already doing theatre activism and part of UNICEF as well. The reason I joined STAR is because it’s all about making changes nationally and educating people in the UK about the situation refugees go through.”

Read Mohamed’s full story.

A Heart of STAR 2015

Maddy Robinson

Maddy joined STAR in 2014 when she was studying at Exeter University and loved it so much that when she went to do an MA at Surrey University she set up a brand new group! Then in 2016 she joined the STAR staff team as the Student Network coordinator

“Joining a STAR group changed my life, and I’ve been so proud to work for the STAR charity helping other students have a meaningful university experience. It was so powerful to be able to connect with a wider community than my university bubble and to welcome and chat with people that had been forced to flee their homes. Thanks to STAR I came away as a knowledgeable and passionate advocate for the rights of people from refugee backgrounds. I know that whatever I go on to do in the future, I’ll keep on advocating for the rights of people that have been forced to flee their homes.”

Read on to hear more of Maddy’s story.

A Heart of 2016

Amy-Leigh Hatton

Amy-Leigh held several roles at Bristol STAR including volunteer leader, an events coordinator, and then President of the group.

“STAR offered a message of welcome from the university to the local community, making it clear that students stand with refugees. Our volunteers offered a friendly face to members of the community. Our community engagement events, like our Welcome Feast, and our trips to the University, helped to weaken the ‘town and gown’ divide within Bristol by bringing communities together. This was especially true at our ‘Open Day’ – we wanted to make clear that University is a place for everyone.”

Find out about Amy-Leigh’s journey since STAR.

A Heart of STAR 2017

Lauren Darwent

Lauren Darwent is a STAR student Trustee and the President of LSESU STAR 2019.

“STAR, in particular, appealed to me because I really admired how STAR was active on both a local and national level, enabling students to support refugees and people seeking asylum through volunteering, but also campaigning for policy change. I love that STAR students are really well supported by the STAR staff team but also have the autonomy to explore issues outside of STAR’s core campaigns, including the link between the climate crisis and migration.”

Find out what led Lauren to join STAR.

A Heart of STAR 2018

Maryam Taher

Maryam is a member of STAR’s board of Trustees and was previously a committee member of York STAR and is now part of STAR’s activist group campaigning for Equal Access to Higher Education. Her work with STAR on this campaign has led her to represent STAR at the Global Refugee Forum 2020.

“STAR gave me a platform to use my voice and speak the obstacles I have faced to make a positive difference. The charity and its network allowed me to inform those who can make a positive policy change about the benefit of equal access scholarships, and I felt strength and confidence in sharing my story in a way that could make a difference. I felt part of a caring and welcoming community which, as a refugee, I wasn’t fortunate to have in the past.”

Continue reading Maryam’s story.

A Heart of STAR 2019

Pam Saengathit

Pam is a volunteer at the STAR office and at her time there was inspired by a visit to LSESU STAR to pursue higher education. Pam is currently studying at LSE university and is a member of LSESU STAR.

“STAR is more like a family to me in the UK. I feel close to every member both in the LSESU group and at the office.” 

Find out what impact Pam saw LSESU STAR that inspired her to be part of it.

To the future Hearts of STAR, always demand humanity to be better!

For the youth of today, the time to open your eyes is now! In order to make changes in our community and society at large, we must first look into our own personal perceptions about the struggles of people who are around us. To help influence any lasting change we need an unbiased reflection of our history and how that has created both the positive impacts we are experiencing and predicaments that still need solutions.

As young adults, you are now the instruments of these solutions and the hearts of the future.

We look forward to welcoming the future hearts of STAR.

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