11 August 2020
Hannah Carbery, the former Vice-President of Nottingham STAR shares her honest experience of volunteering and leading a STAR and how it shaped her university life.
We wanted to say a huge well done to all A-Level Students for their hard work throughout this year. Whatever your results, the power of your generation is unstoppable! Wherever the next chapter of your journey takes you, we know that you will achieve amazing things and that you are capable of making a great difference in the world so remember to always stand for justice, stand in solidarity with those who need it the most and welcome people who are seeking refuge in the UK.
Hello STAR supporters and members! My name is Hannah Carbery, I have recently graduated from the University of Nottingham with a degree in History and have been volunteering as a STAR Student Network Assistant. Since graduating, I have had time to reflect on the last three years and how important STAR was in shaping my university experience.
Hannah is now working at the STAR national office as Student Network Assistant.
In my first year at the University of Nottingham, I optimistically joined about six societies ranging from a folk music society to an Irish society. I didn’t go to a single meeting or social for any of them despite paying the membership fees and joining all the Facebook groups. In my second year, I was determined that I would join a society and actually attend it. So I limited myself to just two societies and joined the History society and Student Action for Refugees (STAR).
If you are heading to uni, look out for STAR at your new university and join a movement of students making incredible change. If your uni doesn’t have a STAR group then why start a STAR group yourself.
Why I joined STAR?
I joined STAR primarily because it looked interesting and different from every other society at university. When I was in the sixth form, I was a keen politics student keeping up with the news (oh how those days of enjoying politics have gone) and enjoying political debates. But in 2015 I couldn’t understand how anyone could rationalise the Syrian airstrikes that the Cameron government was proposing. I became less concerned with the politics behind it, and began to wonder what the result of this decision would be for innocent people in Syria.
It seemed to me that politicians in Britain had the power to begin something life-altering and destructive without consequence. One of the areas I began to research was forced migration and the support of refugees and asylum seekers. Although I continued to sign petitions and share articles on social media in support, I felt largely helpless as a young person in the UK. What did my actions do other than gain a couple of likes from like-minded friends on Facebook? That was until I joined STAR.
STAR has a unique and beautiful mission to work with the community to provide practical and tangible support for refugees and asylum seekers. Unlike a lot of other charities or university societies, STAR manages to combine campaigning, fundraising, and volunteering into one package. In my first year of STAR, I was able to help teach conversational English classes at our weekly mixed class, give tours around my university for potential refugee and asylum-seeking students, and sell samosas to raise money to cover the costs of a student from our conversational classes taking medical exams.
I met some incredible people who have gone on to do amazing things after leaving STAR. I also have some hilarious memories of helping with IELTs classes such as explaining the phrase ‘Never Eat Shredded Wheat’ as a way to remember North, East, South, and West.
I enjoyed my first year of STAR so much that I ran for, and was elected, Vice President (Liaison and Welfare Officer) going into my final year of university. While on the committee of Nottingham STAR I continued to make incredible friends and memories, helping out at our Tuesday mixed conversational classes and our Wednesday women’s class as well as helping Nottingham university apply for sanctuary status. During my year as Vice President, I also had the pleasure (and pain) of running the London Vitality Big Half marathon with Natasha and Francis from Cardiff STAR, Miranda from Essex STAR, and Maddy who up until recently was the Student Network Coordinator. Seeing all the different work that STAR does is a reminder to all of us that no action is too small to contribute to a wider movement.
Often when volunteering it can feel like nothing is ever enough and we can feel tired yet unaccomplished with what we do. Not at STAR. Every conversation, every pound, every open day is a sign that shows refugees and asylum seekers that they are welcome in Britain. Regardless of who is in government and what the political climate is, STAR groups across Britain are encouraging and supporting intelligent and capable people to follow their dreams and embrace their incredible selves. There is so much that STAR offers depending on each university group and their community.
I am constantly inspired by groups that are able to consistently hold bake sales, create petitions mentioned in Parliament, and set up different projects to meet the different needs of their community. The quilt created by STAR really shows this. Although each individual patch is distinct and unique, each patch is joined together by a shared desire for positive change. Some groups are represented by protesters, while others have focused on the symbolism of home and love. The quilt beautifully displays how, as Siobhan from KCL’s patch says, ‘joy is in difference’ and in these different patches, virtually knitted together, there is strength in numbers and in the different projects of STAR groups within the STAR network.
Most importantly STAR is run by the community, for the community; If you want to start a new project STAR is willing to help you make that change in your community. Volunteering should be adaptable, and despite the hurdles that coronavirus have presented to university societies and charities alike, STAR groups have been eager to overcome these issues and continue welcoming and supporting refugees into the UK. Although I have left university (with an obscene amount of debt) my memories of STAR will never fade. STAR is just one of many ways that young people are creating positive change in Britain and worldwide.
Good luck from the STAR team to all the students receiving their A-level results. Even in the uncertain times, know that you have the power to make the world a better place. If you are heading to uni, look out for STAR at your new university and join a movement of students making incredible change. If your uni doesn’t have a STAR group then why start a STAR group yourself.