Students motivated to be the change after working with refugees across Europe

The impressive Deutsche Telekom building in the heart of Berlin’s cultural district witnessed a coming together of students today who pledged to ‘Be the Change’ in society.

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This week the students from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) have travelled through the continent working to support refugees in four different cities in a project organised between #DMUglobal, the university’s pioneering international experiences programme, and #DMUlocal, the award-winning scheme that brings about change in communities.

The students flew from the UK to Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin to get hands-on experience working with groups or communities supporting refugees and other disadvantaged people in one of the most ambitious trips organised by a UK university.

The students assembled at Deutsche Telekom this morning to take part in a series of workshops and panel discussions allowing them time to reflect on what they had witnessed over the last three days, and then consider what action they could take in a time of Brexit and political upheaval.

James Gardner, PVC Dean of Strategic and International Partnerships and Assistant Chief Operating Officer, opened proceedings with a speech calling on the students to work together and decide how they want to Be the Change. The three words come from lines spoken by Mahatma Gandhi that has been adopted by DMU – ‘Be the change that you want to see in the world”.

Mr Gardner said: “Hopefully this trip will fire up our students, motivate them to build solutions and make a difference in society.”

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Kaisha Wilson, a third year Law and Business student, has spent the last three days in Berlin, including a day in the students’ Activist Academy.

She said: “What I have learned from this trip is that everybody here is an activist. We just don’t realise it.

“I want to become a more conscious activist. I write poetry and I write a blog and I write my feelings on social media. But it is only really for me. I need to start to reach out and tell other people about the things that I am passionate about and the things that make me angry. I have something to offer society just like everyone else. And I need to say it out loud rather than say it to myself.”

Rachael Fasogbon is studying International Business and has also worked with the DSU this week.

She said: “This trip has opened up my mind and also my heart. When I first came to DMU I was a bit scared about meeting new people but in the Activist Academy I realised there are like-minded people who want to see the same changes that I do. My main focus is to go back to De Montfort University and help create a sense of community around the campus and encourage each other to get fully involved in being the change.”

Kalem Todd, who is studying Law, had travelled to Brussels before arriving in Berlin for the conference. He was also part of a panel that discussed the topic ‘Friends with Europe’.

Kalem said: “Going to Brussels has allowed me to see the human aspect of the story we have all been following in Europe.

“The refugees I saw were real people, not just statistics or social news stories to read about. It left me asking ‘who is looking after these people? Who is looking out for them? Who is asking for their protection?’

“It is not the country they have come from and it is not the country they have arrived at.

“At the end of the day we are all human beings. Whether you are French, or English or Irish we should all have a duty of care to others.

“We are leaving the EU, not Europe. We are still part of the continent and we have a moral obligation to help the people around us.”

Michelle Frimpong, who is studying an International Business and Management MSc, was part of the group who went to Amsterdam.

She said: “I did not realise this trip was going to be such an eye opener. Refugees did not come to our countries because they wanted to. They came here due to circumstances totally out of their control. The best Western society can do is talk to the refugees, make them feel at home, help them and do not label them.

“If I could do one thing it would be to create more opportunities for these people to tell their stories of where they have come from, as that would help eliminate the stigma.” 

Symone Astley was part of the trip to Paris earlier this week and is starting a Master’s in Business, Economics and International Relations.

She said: “Seeing the work people are doing in Paris to help the migrant crisis was inspirational. There were so many individuals taking steps to help make changes to people’s lives.

“I think the trip has been fantastic. I went to New York in January with #DMUglobal for the #JoinTogether campaign in the UN building and agreed to address the migrant crisis.

“So from doing that to coming here to take action, we all feel that we are part of something that is willing to support change.”

Sarah Thomson, Director of Strategic and International Partnerships at DMU, closed the event by saying: “One of the things we said at the beginning of today was ‘be the change you want to see in the world’.

“If I am looking for someone who inspired me today it is all of you. You have all done something to ‘be the change’ by coming here today and having these conversations.”

In the summer the university announced its new strategic plan, which sets out the mission, values and strategic aims of the university for the next five years, had been crafted in line with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals - showing its commitment to changing society.

DMU was also chosen by the United Nations Academic Impact group as a ‘designated hub’ for SDG number 16 – the first university to be chosen as such.

SDG 16 promotes peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Posted on Thursday 13th September 2018

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