A young woman who fled religious persecution has been inspired to become a social worker after a family welcomed her into their home and helped change her life.
Mai’s* parents encouraged her to escape Vietnam when she was a teenager. She arrived in Leicestershire in a lorry, after making most of the journey alone, and is now supporting the work of Place to Call Home, which aims to recruit foster carers and supported lodgings providers for young refugees.
As she was over 16, Mai was offered supported lodgings, which is the opportunity for young people in care to live with a family or individual for support and to learn valuable skills as they prepare for adulthood.
We followed a religion that the government said was illegal. They would check up on us quite frequently and there was conflict. My parents wanted me to live somewhere with greater human rights and freedom to live a proper life.Person:Mai
“It was quite a mix of feelings in the lorry because it felt like a light at the end of the tunnel but I also worried because I didn’t know the law or what was going to happen to me.
Mai was allocated a social worker who supported her with her health and getting back into education, while finding her a safe and welcoming home with supported lodgings providers in Leicestershire, Anna and Rob.
I had a conversation with my social worker and when I first met Rob and Anna and their dog, we clicked.Person:Mai
“From the moment I walked in, it was really nice. After that, they told me what I can expect from them and some home rules.
“I really appreciated this because for me, when I come somewhere new, I worry about what I'm allowed to do, because I don't want to make anyone upset. But we get on well and I settled really quickly.
“There is a lot of cultural blending in the house, when you know and understand where you live it feels like your home, not just like a stranger out of the circle.
“They have taught me about Halloween and Christmas and why people celebrate but they also help me to celebrate and prepare for Lunar New Year and the New Moon Festival, which is part of my religion.
“When I lived with my parents, I couldn’t say out loud I follow that religion but when I come here, Rob and Anna are really good about it; it built me up so I can do this.
Supported lodgings provider, Anna, added: “We’ve really enjoyed it too – we didn't know anything about Vietnamese culture and practices before, so it's really nice to share in that.”
Mai’s experience has led her to pursue a career as a social worker and she is looking forward to starting a health and social care course this year, after completing an ESOL course to learn English.
She said: “It’s really important to work with others in my situation, who are coming here and not knowing what's going on. This way, I can make it easier for them – they’ll have to go through the dark bits too - but they'll have a chance to know what is going on and how to achieve the life they want.
"The more children like me can experience foster care and supported lodgings, it's better for us. I don't worry anymore.”
Place to Call Home is a partnership project between local authorities in the East Midlands, led by Leicestershire County Council.
More kind and caring people are needed to support vulnerable young people like Mai.Person:Councillor Deborah Taylor, Leicestershire county council lead member for children and families
Fostering and offering supported lodgings really does open doors into a successful future, and give these young people a second chance to live a happy life.
“If you have a spare room and can offer patience and support to someone who needs your guidance, I’d encourage you to contact the Place to Call Home team to find out more.
For more information, visit www.placetocallhome.org.uk or call 0116 305 5898.
NOTE - Mai's name has been changed as she wishes to remain anonymous