My name is Rosie and I am a youth advocate at a children's charity. I work with young people who often have little or no family support. I help them to secure things that most of us take for granted – like a safe place to live or protection from abuse.
I am about to go off on maternity leave (my daughter is due on 8 July), and I am excited (and nervous) about becoming a mum.
But as I head off to start a new chapter in my life, there is one client I will find particularly hard to say goodbye to.
For the past year, I have been working with a remarkable young woman, Sasha*. However, I am dreading the thought that, when I come back from maternity leave in a year's time, with my life completely different, I will find Sasha still stuck in exactly the same situation she is in now, unable to have got on with her life at all.
Let me tell you about Sasha.
Sasha is positive, warm, determined and generous, with wisdom beyond her 20 years. I have loved working with her. Like a lot of my clients, Sasha has been let down repeatedly by the adults in her life. As a result, she has been having a really hard time, and is living in a precarious and draining situation.
Sasha came to the UK from Antigua with her mother and sister when she was six months old. She grew up in North London and has never known anywhere else to be home. Like any other teenager, she went to her local school, attended church, worked hard at college, and had a close group of friends. She had big plans for her future and dreamed of becoming a midwife.
When Sasha was in the sixth form, she discovered no one had ever completed her immigration paperwork (her mum was no longer around by then). Sasha was devastated to discover that this means she has no legal status in the UK, and so can't do any of the things her friends are doing. She isn't allowed to work or study; she can't vote, rent a flat, claim benefits, or learn to drive, for example. More worryingly, she lives with the fear of being sent back to a country she doesn't remember.
Sasha displays extraordinary resilience and her religious faith is a great source of comfort to her, but until she can sort this out, her whole life is on hold. Since I've been working with her, we've made great progress. After being homeless for a while (including sleeping on buses), Sasha is now living in a room provided by a charity, which also gives her £25 a week to live on. Crucially, she now has everything in place to apply to the Home Office for what's called 'leave to remain'. Once granted, this would transform everything by giving her legal status as a UK resident, after which there would be nothing holding her back. Her case is so strong that I've found her a solicitor prepared to act free of charge, because they are so confident her application will be successful.
However, there is one stumbling block which we haven't been able to resolve.
Making an application for leave to remain costs £1,493 in Home Office fees. Sasha can't save anything from her £25 a week income and, being barred from working and with no family to call on, she cannot possibly raise the money she needs.
That sum is all that stands between Sasha being able to get on with her life, rather than continuing to live in fear and limbo, possibly indefinitely.
That's why I have made one of my last tasks before going on maternity leave setting up this fundraising page**. If we club together, we can raise the funds for Sasha.
Sasha is a proud young woman. It was several months before she would let me buy her even a cup of tea. She wanted so much to be able to resolve this problem for herself, but I was finally able to convince her that the system is against her on this one, and, because of that, there is no shame in allowing others to help.
Even if you can donate just a few pounds, it could make all the difference to this hardworking and impressive young woman’s life and her chance for a future. It will also mean that, when I come back from having my baby, I can look forward to hearing from Sasha how she has finally been able to start contributing to the country that she loves and is her home.
* The name 'Sasha' is a pseudonym, to protect my client's anonymity.
** All money raised will be put towards the cost of Sasha's Home Office fees.
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