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Housing association supports refugee’s employment journey

ASSISTANCE: Longhurst Group's Employment and Training Advisor Rob Friday, left, and Mebrahtom Weldemikall

AN ERITREAN businessman who suffered oppression in Africa has rebuilt his life in the UK after receiving significant support from a Midlands housing association.

Mebrahtom Weldemikall (45) fled his homeland in 2008 and, after discovering refuge in England, he later found a home and employment in Birmingham.

Determined to improve his quality of life and to give his family the best chance of succeeding in the UK, Weldemikall met with Longhurst Group’s Employment and Training Advisor, Rob Friday, in 2014 and started the long and winding, obstacle-filled road to becoming a private hire driver.

“Rob has been very important to my life,” Weldemikall said.

“Thanks to him, I’ve been able to settle in the UK, to relax and enjoy life again. He’s helped me with everything. My home, getting child tax credit for my children and getting work. He has changed my life and helped me so much. Rob is not like a friend, here’s more like a big brother to me.”

The owner of a successful import and export business in his homeland, Weldemikall world was turned upside down following his country’s border war with Ethiopia, which first began in 1998.

With most of his stock trapped across the border, Weldemikall lost thousands of pounds to the government and, unable to reclaim his money, he left the country.

Taken prisoner in Libya during his journey to Europe, Weldemikall was later released and sought refuge in the UK. As soon as his official papers came through, Weldemikall accepted whatever work he could find.

“It was very difficult at first,” he said.

“I went straight into work and had to learn the language. My first job was at an ice cream factory. The job wasn’t difficult but it was hard because I didn’t understand or speak English.

“I also did cleaning jobs and worked in a car factory, putting different components together for the windows. I soon found the work easy and the managers had to tell me to slow down because I was making other workers look bad!”

He later signed up to the Job Centre’s Work Programme. But out of work for two years and determined to better himself, he contacted Rob in 2014 and began working and volunteering.

That determination and work ethic has been evident in everything Weldemikall has done since; from enrolling in college to learn English as soon as his family joined him in the country, to his determination to become a private hire driver.

“I could’ve carried on working in factories, speaking and understanding very little English, but I wanted to improve myself, get a better job and make life better here for my family,” he said.

Weldemikall passed his driving license and then had to wait a further two years before he could take his private drivers’ test, including the knowledge test.

“That was very difficult,” he said.

“I could not have completed that without Rob explaining what it all meant. We did quizzes where Rob asked me different questions. It helped that he was so relaxed and spoke slowly to make sure I could understand everything.

“When I found out I passed my oral knowledge test I phoned Rob straight away. I’ll never forget how happy he was, clapping and cheering down the phone to congratulate me!”

Determined to improve his English, Weldemikall sought out private lessons with a friend of Rob’s, who agreed to provide them free of charge. He also volunteered at a charity shop, as part of a window cleaning local enterprise and at a local food bank to get used to speaking to new people.

Touched by the ‘very important service’ the food bank provided to the local community, Weldemikall even donated £50 to the charity after receiving his first pay cheque as a taxi-driver.

Rob has been there every step of the way for Weldemikall, meeting him 80 times in the space of 18 months. Those meetings included job interview tips, CV writing assistance, and translating complex forms.

“The process to get to where he is now has been far from plain sailing”, Rob explained.

“There seems to have constantly been a new obstacle placed in front of Mebrahtom. From learning English to passing his driving test and gaining the local knowledge, it has been challenge after challenge.

“I’ve been extremely proud of how Mebrahtom has overcome each of the barriers he’s faced. He’s never given up and worked incredibly hard to get to where he is today. We’ve worked together well as a team and I’m very happy that I’ve been able to help him.”

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