Penrith And Eden Refugee Network

Penrith and Eden Refugee Network


Fatima arrived in Penrith in 2017. She and her husband and young son fled the Syrian civil war in 2011 and were refugees in Lebanon until 2017, when they arrived in the UK under the Syrian resettlement scheme.  Her second son was born in Lebanon and she became pregnant with her third child soon after arriving in Cumbria. 


Fatima says it was a confusing and frightening time. ‘When we first came to Penrith’ she says, ‘I was very scared. I was very sad because I was thinking about my family in Syria. I missed them very much. There was just one other Syrian family here.’ At the start they knew no-one, and she recalls that her husband Yehya would take the children to the park to play, where they would spend many happy hours. 


PERN offered friendship and practical help, which Fatima says she will never forget. ‘The first person was Sarah (PERN’ Director), she is a very lovely friend. She came every day to our house asking if we need help. She helped us with the language, and she brought with her some toys for the kids and books to read and have activities together. She also took us places, to her house, and we had a lovely time together.’ 


Once her older children were settled at the local primary school, Fatima was keen to enrol in English lessons. However, her baby son was, she says, very noisy, and she was only able to attend because PERN friends looked after him. ‘Val and Adrian and Sarah and Ali helped me with my son a lot. Val had more free time and she helped the most with my son. It was very hard to go to English lessons without help. I liked the challenge of doing something hard and my friends made it possible.’ 


Fatima knew no English when she arrived and she says learning the language has been essential. She praised the ESOL classes she attended and has recently passed the B1 Entry 3 exam. ‘It is very important to me because I live in England so I need to speak English. I have friends and I need to speak with them and I need to speak with my kids in English. And when you go shopping and when you want to speak with someone, you need to know what they are saying. And for the future, for work, for everything.’ 


Back in the Syrian city of Hama where she lived with her extended family, Fatima learned to sew. With all her children now at school, she has more free time and would like to get a sewing qualification. She hopes to find someone locally who can help her learn. 


She also volunteers regularly at her children’s primary school and is eager to explore becoming a teaching assistant. She says the boys are settled and have made good friends. They like the quietness of Penrith, she says, and appreciate the friendliness of local people. ‘Here in Penrith, when I look at people they say hello, they smile at us.’


Now nearing 40, Fatima misses the family she left when she was just 23. She lost her mother and a brother soon after arriving in the UK, and another brother now lives in Turkey. The rest of her family have stayed in Syria, because, she says ‘they all have someone they need to look after. My brothers and sister stay with my father because he is an old man and needs their help. It’s enough that me and my brother are somewhere different.’ 


The family stay in touch every day by WhatsApp.  She says ‘I dream now of when we can be together, just like it was before, to have a lovely time. When I lived in Syria, my youngest brother was the same age as my middle son is now. Now my brother is very big, I look at him and I can’t believe I will be with him again one day.’


Looking ahead to the future, Fatima is delighted to have recently passed the Life in UK test. ‘I am so thankful to my friend Ali (a PERN Trustee) who helps me a lot. She took me and the kids to Manchester to make the process for citizenship application’. 


She is looking forward to the freedom that citizenship will give the family. ‘Once we have British passports’, she says ‘we can travel and in the holidays we can go to Turkey to see my brother, and meet their cousins. I am very excited and the kids as well. Next I’m thinking of my driving test, it’s next month. The kids are much more excited about the car than they were about the My Life in the UK test!’


Fatima has a message of hope for everyone who comes to the UK. She says: ‘I want to encourage all those who face difficulties and problems not to despair of them and to continue learning the English language and achieve their dreams in order to build a beautiful future, and we will achieve it, God willing. There is nothing easy in this life, but we must work hard to obtain everything beautiful, and we challenge all difficulties with love, honesty and a smile of hope. We always remember that there are our children, family, and good friends in our lives who give us hope to move on.’

Categorised as Stories
Skip to content