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Teaching dreams reignited for asylum seeker who lost all hope after fleeing home

An asylum seeker who had lost all hope of becoming a teacher may now realise her dream after taking the University of Chichester’s 12-week bridging course, From Adversity to University.

Cenia Muñoz had always wanted to be a teacher, but in 2020, she and her husband Angel fled their home country El Salvador after threats from gangs. They arrived in the UK just 15 days before the pandemic began.

It was a difficult start, with the couple in confinement and then housed in almost a dozen hotels. They fell pregnant with their now three-year-old daughter, before finally coming to Bognor Regis to start their new life.

Cenia had given up her dreams to become a teacher until Sanctuary in Chichester (SiC) and the University of Chichester stepped in.

SiC’s Pathways to Independence Manager Kerry Foster helped Cenia to plan for the future and suggested the university’s 12-week bridging course into higher education.

Cenia said: “When Kerry told me about the bridging course, I thought it was a great opportunity to take a big step, especially because I didn’t expect anything more than learning English. I had no idea I would have the opportunity to join the university. My ambitions at that time were limited only to getting a survival job where I had no opportunities for growth but only to survive.”

The pioneering course, From Adversity to University, helps students without the necessary qualifications to learn new skills and bridge the gap to higher education.

The module, which has been backed by the Office for Students, utilises the students’ lived experiences to develop academic reading, writing and research skills as well as self-confidence, self-esteem and self-belief.

Cenia said: “To be honest, when I started the course, I didn’t feel very sure I could achieve it. Academic words are still a challenge. However, from the first day of the course, Becky, our teacher, made me feel part of the group. Her warmth and her way of teaching made me feel comfortable, and the topics taught in the course made me open my mind and have helped me to understand myself better.

“My ambitions have changed completely since I knew that it was not too late; my dream is to be able to work with children, to be able to teach Spanish which is my first language. I know I still have a long way to go, I’m still working to improve my English. I am studying Level 1 ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) at college and then the GCSE course so that I can have access to higher courses. I hope after all that I can go to university.

“My experience at the university has been very meaningful, it has opened the way for me to new expectations. It has challenged me and given me hope. It has made me believe in myself and prove that I can achieve everything I set my mind to.”

A spokesperson for SiC, said: “Sanctuary in Chichester is pleased to be working with the University of Chichester in supporting refugees and asylum seekers to access the bridging module, From Adversity to University, in order to help them enter higher education and develop their lives in the UK.

“Over the last few years Sanctuary in Chichester has sponsored 10 students who have successfully completed the module. They have all gained important skills from their studies. Six of them are now in employment and two have undertaken further studies. The self-confidence and experience gained on the bridging module was a direct factor in helping them to secure employment and pursue further studies.”

Senior lecturer Becky Edwards, from the University of Chichester’s department of childhood, social work, and social care, developed the project to help reduce barriers to higher education.

She said: “Cenia’s story of courage, resilience and determination is both humbling and inspiring. Teaching on the bridging course and learning from students like Cenia fills me with hope and pride. It is proof of the transformational power of education and a constant reminder that, with the right opportunities, all things are possible in life.”

For more about the course, From Adversity to University, visit: www.chi.ac.uk/childhood-education-and-social-work/course/bridging-course/

Bex Bastable
Bex Bastablehttp://bexbastable.co.uk
Bex is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.
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