New skills mean a new life for Tasleem and her son

31 Jan 2017

For Tasleem Akhtar, 28, learning has been a lifeline when she was at her very lowest ebb. Alone in a strange country, looking after her young son and living in a refuge, Tasleem knew that to build them a better life she needed to get back to her studies. Now she’s at college, her son is at school, and she’s helping other people follow her same journey.

Tasleem first came to the UK with her husband, but the marriage soon turned sour. She explains: “It was very hard for me, in a new country, with new people, all talking a new language. The hardest bit was leaving my son behind in Pakistan - he was 8/9 months old. It was very difficult, very stressful. And I was not welcome.

“I wanted to carry on my studies - I had to give up my law degree in Pakistan when I had my son. But it was soon made clear to me that study was for sons and daughters, not daughters-in-law. My husband would not support me. If he does not stand by you, there is no one else to help. I was lost and very alone. I lost a lot of confidence.

“It took me a long time to get out of it. I tried my best. I asked lots of organisations for help. My son was my hope and I did everything for him. And in the end, I did get out, and my son came over from Pakistan to be with me.”

The small family moved around a lot and ended up in a refuge in Newcastle. That’s where Tasleem met the people from Your Homes Newcastle. Soon she had her own house, and they’d told her about the English My Way and Learn My Way classes at Online Centre Newcastle Library.

“I was very excited to have my home,” says Tasleem, “and I was very, very excited to be able to study again. I know if I can learn I can make my life better. I started with entry level ESOL and with Learn My Way. I did not know much about digital before. I could use my phone to make a call but nothing else! Soon I learned how to Google, and how to pay bills and check my bank account online, how to shop online and stay safe online too. I didn’t know all of this. Now I know much, much more. You need to know this to be part of society, to get on.

“Then I found out that I can volunteer at the Library at the same time as learning. So I have something for myself now, but even better I can show other people how to have that too. That has made a big difference to me. I can tell people, I was there too. You must be strong. You must keep trying to find a way to do what you want to do, and get where you want to go. You must be confident.

“It is advice I find hard to follow myself, but my confidence is getting better all the time. My son is now 7 and he encourages me - he says, ‘You can do it, Mum’. And the people here have helped me a lot. There are lots of different people here, lots of different languages, but everyone wants to learn. I have not felt like I am different. Everyone helps each other and respects each other.

“I would also advise anyone to always have hope, and always ask for help. Because there are people out there who can help you. And then you can help yourself. And once you have help, then it’s your turn to help others. Giving that back to my new country when I have been given so much is very important to me.

“Now I show other people how to use the computers, how to learn English. I am also at college doing my Level 2 ESOL, and maths and English. At home, I can now help my son with his homework. I teach him my home language, Urdu, and the holy book in Arabic. He will grow up knowing lots of languages and cultures and this is a very good start.

“My wish is to go to University and to finish my law degree. That is what I work for. And then I will be able to help more people. I want to do everything. But mostly I want to give my son a better life.

“I was over the moon when I found out that someone thought my learning was worth an award. Thank you. It means a lot to me to have that support.”