When I first met Ambeya in 2005, I was a newly qualified teacher, aged 23, working in an inner-city London comprehensive. I had completed my training in two similar schools, but perhaps nothing prepares you for that first year of teaching in a school where many young people face such a multitude of personal and social challenges.
Ambeya, aged 12, was as she is now: inspiring and resilient. She continues to be one of the most impressive and strong people I have ever met. She is completely self-made, despite facing so many difficult circumstances at home – she continued to try hard in every subject, ace her exams, be kind to everyone around her and completely thrived at school. I used to ask myself regularly, how she achieved this, when, as a young carer, she was dealing with so much outside of school.
It’s taken me twelve years, but I realise that all she needed was a pair of willing ears. She needed someone to listen. I would love to take some credit for her academic and personal successes, but the truth is, all I think I did, was allow her to speak freely and listen to her. She did everything else for herself.
I had no training in the consequences of having a parent with mental illness on young people, and I had no real experience of young people from these backgrounds – until I met Ambeya.
However, I believe that through talking, you can knock down walls, and through listening, you can perhaps build new foundations – strong blocks, that are not excluding or protectionist, but foundations that help young people to feel more confident about their lives and futures.
If Our Time had existed in our area and at our school twelve years ago, and I had known about it, I would have loved to have helped Ambeya meet others who had similar experiences to her. I also wish we could have had whole school training about this topic and how to further support children like Ambeya. I was able to listen and try to empathise, but I could never fully understand how she felt. It would have been wonderful to see her build relationships with others – who had also lived through her experiences and could share her story. And I would have loved to have seen our school work with all staff and pupils to break down barriers, like stigma.
Ambeya and her teacher reconnected after we ran her story in our social media campaign ‘Helping kids #BeKidsAgain’. It has been amazing to hear how much this relationship has affected each of them and to know that even something as simple as having someone to talk to, can have such a big impact.
Ambeya will be taking part in a sponsored trek across the Sahara Desert in the autumn for Our Time. She is taking on this once in a lifetime challenge to help promote the work of Our Time to help other children like her have access to support. In order to do this, she must raise a minimum of £2000. Any amount would be appreciated!
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