In May 2017, I was in the USA doing a short course on leadership in a program entitled the ‘Global Change Agents’ at Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University when I received an email from Neil Jameson CBE, the then Executive Director of Citizens UK, encouraging staff members to apply for the fellowship. Neil knows better than most of us about the fellowship as he himself was a fellow in 1977 which helped him to travel to the USA, meet veteran Community Organisers, reflect on Community Organising in the USA and consequently sow the seeds for Community Organising in the UK where he established Citizens UK in 1989. That email from Neil ignited fire in my belly. It encouraged me to rethink and try Churchill Fellowship again. I flagged the email and waited for some time. This time around, I was more purposeful, focused and knew where to concentrate on and why. Luckily, I even know good colleagues who had succeeded with their fellowship, who all advised me to give it a try. I knew what I was going to do if I succeeded. By the time I was about to put in my application, I was highly involved in Refugees Welcome movement in the United Kingdom and my fellowship was how I could strengthen my understanding of the sector. I organised my application better than the first time around and submitted it in good time
After I had submitted my application, I kept doing some research on what to do, who to meet and when to travel hoping that I would succeed this time around. It was a good dream to dream; hope to hope and aspirations to aspire. Asking myself what if I was awarded? What could I do? Yes, it all paid off. When I got that email from Winston Churchill Memorial Trust notifying me that I was successful, I had the most emotional moment. Cries with emotions. Smiles in the streets. Yes I did it. Although I was preparing myself for the good news, it was still unbelievable. I had in the past been awarded fellowships, but the emotional feeling this time was different. I had, however, to wait for some time to make the news public as per the conditions attached. As a social media enthusiast and keen to share these sort of news to friends and allies, the wait until the embargo was lifted was challenging, but something all fellows had to deal with.
My Churchill Fellowship took me to Canada to study about its decades long Refugee Sponsorship program. As my fellowship was more focused and around my job responsibilities and interests, the contribution of the fellowship was enormous. The fellowship equipped me with what I needed to know about the Refugee Sponsorship scheme. To see why Canada’s refugee sponsorship program is successful and what we could bring over to the UK and see how we could use the learning to better our Community Sponsorship program. I am now at stage where I can use my Churchill Fellowship learning and my lived experiences to contribute in the Refugee Welcome movement. I was once an asylum seeker, a detainee and had gone through many challenges in my journeys to sanctuary, but the learning in these journeys were instrumental. Hope and perseverance have taken me so far. I am now director of UK Welcomes Refugees, which is all about Building Community Sponsorship of Refugees Together with others. Lots of credit to my Churchill Fellowship. Glad I did it. It was indeed a blessing.
Please find my Churchill Fellowship report, HERE