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When all the things you thought you had are gone

Connie Berko photo Connie Berko · 07 Aug, 2020

Connie recalls moving to the UK alone from Ghana aged 12 - a decision she had no part in - and her discovery aged 19 that she had been here illegally for most of the past 7 years.

My name is Connie, and I'm a youth worker. I thought I would share a bit of my life story with you today.

So I came to England from Ghana at age 12 to live with my aunt. My family thought that this was a good idea, except nobody really consulted me. Nobody asked how I felt about moving to a different country. I guess they thought that I was a child and they were doing what's best for me.

I travelled to England as an unaccompanied minor, which was by far the scariest, longest, and the loneliest nine hours I have ever experienced. When I got to England, everything was different. It was the biggest cultural shock ever. I felt so, so sad. Of course, I missed Ghana terribly. I felt like I lost everything I know and love. My school, my friends, my home. I literally had to unlearn and relearn everything.

Things at home with my auntie weren't great. So school was my only safe place. I had some really cool teachers and made some really nice friends. At school, I could be myself, I could be a child. I didn't have the responsibilities of cleaning up the house or caring for my cousins, or cooking. At school, I could relax, laugh, and play.

So at age 19, life just changed dramatically. I made a shocking discovery. I found out that I didn't have a UK citizenship. This means that I had no right to be in England. In fact, I never did after six months of being here. I quickly sought legal advice so I could apply to the Home Office to correct this. To make an application, I needed a lot of money, but most importantly, I needed a Ghanaian passport. To get a Ghanaian passport, I needed proof of UK Citizenship. I didn't have any. I couldn't get one without the other. So, felt like I didn't belong anywhere.

Just like that, I was battling with loss of identity.

It was going to take years to resolve or correct this. In the meantime, I couldn't travel. I watched my friends go on holiday without me that summer. And the summers after that. I couldn't go to uni, even though I had two university offers to study paediatric nursing. I couldn't learn to drive, I couldn't work. It was definitely a challenging time. Life was hard, I was so sad. I was in limbo, I was so confused.

This was going to be a fight, one I couldn't really give up on. I had to see this through to the end. My life depended on it. I decided I was going to be positive. I was going to keep a good mental and emotional wellbeing. I was going to make the most of all the opportunities and experiences that came my way. I was going to be hopeful. I was going to use my time to serve others.

My immigration status took nine years to resolve, nine years. A lot happened in that nine years, good and bad. In that time, I just learned to be patient. I learned forgiveness. I had to forgive my auntie for not sorting things out in the first place when she brought me to the UK. I had to forgive people who tried to take advantage of me. People who tried to look down on me because of my situation. I learned to stand up for myself. I learned kindness. Because people were kind to me.

Sometimes I get sad that things took so long to resolve. I wish I didn't have to spend all that time fighting for my case with the Home Office. Nine years was a long time, I could have achieved an awful lot given the opportunity and freedom. But then other times, I feel like things turned out exactly how they were supposed to. Perhaps I would be a completely different person if I had not gone through those experiences.

I'm now one of the most resilient people I know. I know that I can go through hard things and make it through with God and friends, family supporting me.

I guess I decided to be a youth worker because I know the difference it makes to a young person's life when they have people or someone to show interest, to listen, to walk alongside them. Having gone through all that I did as a young person myself. So I'm Connie and I'm a youth worker.


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