2nd June 2023

For Volunteer Week 2023, we are celebrating STAR volunteers and their contributions. There are thousands of students dedicating their time to make the UK a more welcoming place for refugees and people seeking asylum. In this blog, Shehany who is the President of Plymouth STAR and an Equal Access Activist talks to us about her experience at STAR. 
You can find out more about what Plymouth STAR are doing on their Instagram page.

What is your experience of working with STAR?

I’m Shehany, I’m the President of STAR Plymouth and a STAR Equal Access Activist. I’ve been a volunteer for STAR for just over a year now. A friend and I founded STAR Plymouth last year. I am currently the president of STAR Plymouth. I am proud to share that STAR Plymouth recently won the award for the campaign project of the year and became the runners up for the activity group of the year at the student union awards. STAR Plymouth has volunteered locally, providing opportunities for students to engage and interact with refugees, made over 300 care bags and toiletry packs to be distributed to local families, volunteered at cultural kitchen, provided volunteers for the Plymouth Hope festival, took part, and led refugee week events, provided 1-1 mentoring, and tutoring for young asylum seekers. Recently, we raised over £300 to support local refugee support and legal advice organisations. We have also campaigned heavily over the last year to raise awareness of the barrier’s individuals from sanctuary seeking backgrounds face when it comes to accessing higher education.  

As an equal access activist for STAR national, I have been helping with campaigning for scholarships, access opportunities at universities across the UK, raising awareness of the issues while calling for policy changes. I recently chaired an online panel event organised by STAR national on “fighting the UK’s anti refugee laws”. This was a platform where students could hear from a panel of experts including refugee sector leaders, campaigners, and politicians about the impact of the anti-refugee laws on people seeking asylum. We also spoke about how we can come together to stand against these unlawful rulings.   

Why did you want to get involved in creating change?  

As someone who had to overcome numerous barriers and obstacles to pursue higher education, I understand how difficult it is to persevere when there are so many hurdles in your way, as it is so easy to give up. That is why equal access to higher education is so important to me. I believe there is a significant under-representation of individuals from sanctuary seeking backgrounds in higher education for a variety of reasons, such as issues with their status, lack of student finance access, and a lack of overall support, so I wanted to change that and believe STAR would be a perfect platform to push for this much-needed access.   

How do you think you have made a difference, no matter how big or small?   

Nelson Mandela once said, “we can change the world and make it a better place. It is in our hands to make a difference.” Making a difference does not require wealth or influence. Even if you don’t believe it’s feasible, you can already make a difference. All you have to do is give up some of your time and energy! It turns out that many small actions we do in our daily lives have a significant impact that we are unaware of. I believe that by putting myself out there and participating in numerous projects both nationally and locally, I have contributed to a positive change.   

Why should other people get involved in STAR, or in campaigning/volunteering in general?   

Equal access to higher education is a human right, and I believe that everyone, regardless of circumstance, has the right to an education. Many people are unaware of the barriers that refugees and asylum seekers face in accessing admission to higher education, as well as the day-to-day obstacles they confront. By getting involved with STAR, you will be given an excellent platform to raise awareness and fight for equal access to higher education for individuals from sanctuary seeking backgrounds. By educating the community and by advocating for their rights, you will be helping them reach for the stars!   

As an equal access activist group, we have spoken at national and international conferences, provided feedback to institutions such as UCAS, SFE and many more. If you are someone who is a natural leader, then the equal access activist role maybe for you. Being with people who share your interests and hobbies is also incredible.  

 I am so proud to be a member of STAR and is really excited to fight for more social injustices together with my fellow STAR members around the UK!

If you’re a member of a STAR group, get in touch with our Campaigns Manager Siobhán for advice about planning campaign actions.

If you’re interested in joining or setting up a STAR group, get in touch with our Student Network Organiser Lois.

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