Young Syrian refugees resettled in Peterborough after fleeing the war-torn country have thanked the city for its support as they thrive in their new surroundings.
Speaking for the first time since coming to Peterborough, the teenagers have thanked their fellow pupils and teachers at Iqra Academy for making them feel so welcome.
The children were resettled here as part of a government scheme with many having witnessed the deaths of family and friends in their home country before fleeing to refugee camps.
One of the youngsters, 17-year-old Maya, is about to start her GCSEs at the Islamic girls school in Bretton. She came to Peterborough from a camp in Jordan with her parents and sister. Maya said: “It’s good here. Everyone is really nice and helps me.
“Here they treat me in a good way and respect me.
“In Syria I do not have a future - I can’t study at school. It was so scary for us there.
“When I came to England I had a lot of opportunities to allow me to study. I want to be a businesswoman.”
Maya is one of six girls from Syria being tutored by Iqra teacher Tom Wright.
“Tom has been amazing,” said Maya of the man who has helped improve their limited English and joined them in lessons to provide support.
Last year Tom won the Health and Wellbeing Award at the National Interfaith Education Awards and, while modest about his achievement, he was full of praise for the quick progress made by the girls.
“It’s hard to make friends with the language barriers, but the other pupils have been very understanding,” he said.
“Then all of a sudden they’re having more detailed conversations.
“Maya in her first six months was speaking hardly any English, but she’s doing her GCSEs next year and did a speech at St John’s church in Cathedral Square on Holocaust Memorial Day in English. It was incredible to see.”
The girls have also thrown themselves into extra-curricular activities such as the cadet force and football team. Tom, who speaks “basic” Arabic, added: “If they have science homework or exams I will do tutoring at their homes and their families are very welcoming. My wife will come and we will have food.
“They’re giving the maximum effort and want to be part of society here. They get involved in everything and have a great attitude.”
Tom has also spoken to the girls about their journeys to the UK. “It’s inspiring but it’s quite sad. Sometimes they feel comfortable talking about it but sometimes not,” he said.
“One lived in a tent in Iraq for a couple of years.”
Bayan (15) came here from Jordan. She said: “It was very difficult but here I can complete my future. I want to be a dentist. Tom is a very, very good teacher and everyone here is amazing. In Syria a lot of people kill each other. They killed my uncle and grandpa.
“I wish that it will have a better future.”