From being a refugee in Syria and not knowing the English language to earning 3 A*s in her A-levels in the UK, Dana Alarnab's story of perseverance and triumph and then turning around to support others that were in her position of being a refugee in the UK was inspiring. Over 20 young adults shared similar stories during an exhilarating evening on 22nd November 2022 at the Universal Peace Federation Young Achiever Awards in the Houses of Parliament, hosted by Shaun Bailey MP. Proud Mums and Dads that were used to hurly-burly of politics were treated to an inspiring evening.
The Young Achiever Awards recognises young people that have gone above and beyond in their investments in the service of others. This year, 22 people were selected and celebrated in the House of Commons and presented an award by Members of Parliament. Just before they received their award, each awardee was invited to share their story and speak about the journey they have walked.
The first person to share their testimony was 19-year-old Sabrina Daniel. Imagine coming to the UK as an asylum seeker at the age of 4, and going into foster care from age 6. Even though her start was difficult and she didn't know the English language well, Sabrina achieved excellence in school and university all while creating and supporting numerous successful projects for the benefit of those around her. Some of her notable projects include: teaching new asylum seekers English grammar to support their integration into UK society; creating a mentorship programme that links young people in foster care and foster care leavers with mentors to support them in their development, in partnership with the city council; giving primary school assemblies to educate children about asylum seeking and refugee children to make them feel welcome; fundraising to support her local asylum centre; and much more. Sabrina's is surely a story of dedication and perseverance and we are eagerly anticipating what Sabrina will achieve in the future.
21-year-old reigning Miss International UK Evanjelin Elchmanar was the second awardee of the evening. As a champion for women and single mothers that have experienced domestic violence, Evanjelin raised £15,000 for the build of a new house for a single mother of two living in Sri Lanka and has raised over £75,000 for numerous charities in the past 7 years. Through her own charity 'Climate Exchange LTD', Evanjelin educates the younger generation about climate change through art. The diversity of areas in which Evanjelin has contributed to society is clearly on show.
A self-described idealist, Mohammed Noor, a 25-year-old from Birmingham was next to speak and receive the award. Over the last few years, Mohammed has been providing mentoring to young boys aged 10-15 years old. He aims to inspire in them a determination that we can all achieve whatever we set our minds to. Furthermore, he has also been supporting low-income families in his community with financial administrative work. Mohammed continuously strives to better society and the lives of those around him to create the bright future we all hope for.
The 18-year-old activist and public speaker, Anita Okunde was the next recipient of the 2022 Young Achiever Award. As Founder and President of Girl Up Manchester, Anita has led girls in Manchester to a more enlightened space about sexual health and sex education. In the last two years, together with her team, she worked to educate young girls about periods, help reduce "period poverty", connect girls with female professionals in their desired industry, and give sex education. Furthermore, Anita works hard to promote climate justice and focuses on putting those disproportionately affected by climate change at the forefront of the climate movement. This has led to her being listed as one of the Top 100 Environmentalists, according to Forbes.
Junior Doctor Batool Hussain Wali was the fifth awardee of the evening. Dr Hussain Wali was on the front line during the tumultuous peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic here in the UK. She not only provided care for those that could not receive visitors at the hospital she worked with, but Dr Hussain Wali also helped to raise awareness about the importance of vaccination programmes within ethnic communities.
The next awardee to receive the award was 18-year-old Michael Shirley. Aside from the work that Michael does with the Youth Policy Development group of Shout Out UK in which meetings are regularly held with Government Ministers and representatives speaking about youth-specific issues, Michael spent much time in school founding and leading their local secondary school’s Eco Council. From abolishing plastic cutlery, tackling the scourge of litter and reducing the school’s energy consumption, the flourishing team of 100 students successfully achieved the Eco Schools Green Flag Award twice.
As a student who aspires to see the world become a better place, Krishna W., the next awardee, has invested himself in volunteer activities both at home and abroad. In Sri Lanka, Krishna has been part of charity events to raise funds for a school there to provide necessary education facilities for the local children. Here in the UK, Krishna has volunteered in care homes for patients suffering from mental disorders - providing a range of services including helping with serving meals, admin work, taking care of patients, providing emotional support and care to the patients, helping out at events and with the organisation of the care home. Krishna's bright spirit and enthusiasm for making a difference in the world are infectious!
Enam K., a 17-year-old from India living in the UK, has also been involved in a wide range of activities in the UK and abroad. As the head of the youth group within a charity named the KAB Welfare Foundation, Enam makes an impact on society in India by empowering young people to develop an interest in creating positive change in the community. In the UK, Enam visits local schools and educates local children with knowledge on not only academics but character building and life skills and teaches them skills on becoming well-rounded individuals - topics which are often lacking in the school curriculum. Furthermore, through her school, Enam also volunteers at the annual tea parties for old-age pensioners and has led and organised a science fair designed to empower young women in the pursuit of STEM careers - an under-represented area in terms of gender equality.
From being homeless on the streets of Lagos, David Owumi, the next person to receive the award, currently serves as an Advisory Committee Member to the Mayor of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority on Climate, Energy and Environment. His story of grit and service continues to inspire young leaders in Bradford and the wider West Yorkshire region. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, David worked tirelessly with The Millside Centre to provide food, clothes and mental support to refugees in Bradford ensuring they’re not left behind. He also volunteered with Hope for Justice, a modern slavery charity in Manchester to rescue victims of exploitation. Along with his voluntary work, David founded the Bradford Cleanup Initiative and the Bradford Circular Project (BCP) in collaboration with the Bradford Council to speed up Bradford’s transition to a green net-zero economy and is the founder of circular economy startup Qinq - a platform creating alternatives to post-consumption wastes by connecting consumers with thousands of repairers and manufacturers willing to recover raw materials from post-consumption wastes. David also founded Africa’s first inclusion research institute, SALT HOUSE—Institute for Inclusive Governance and Sustainable Development. Highlighting and sharing the achievements of exceptional people like David Owumi is a reward in and of itself.
Alexandra R., an avid volunteer and charity work advocate, was the next to speak and receive the Young Achiever Award. Through her leadership positions on the Watford Youth Council and her school's Rotary Interact Club, Alexandra has offered herself tirelessly for the sake of others by helping to raise funds for numerous local and international charities including Small Acts of Kindness, a loneliness and community support charity; Hand on Heart, which delivers bags of essential clothing and hygiene items to people without homes; Purple for Polio, the annual Rotary campaign; and the Herts High Sheriff’s Community Fair. As Vice-Chair of the Watford Youth Council, Alexandra also ensures that the voice and opinions of young people are heard on important matters.
Lee Keogh was the next person to receive the Young Achiever Award that night. Lee has supported and been involved in many local community organisations and charities in Watford that support those with disabilities and other complex needs. He has also created an initiative called “Purple Pun” to engage corporates and businesses in disability awareness - changing and defeating stigmas. Lee also works volunteers as a trustee of HSO – a local organisation in Watford providing mental health support for children in schools. Lee is a dynamic and tenacious individual that doesn't let anything stop him from achieving his goals and shines a light on the inadequate levels of support and access for disabled individuals in many businesses and institutions.
The next awardee to speak was Laiba Waseem. Laiba is someone that has gone through a great deal from a young age, including depression, PTSD and sexual assault. When she went to the relevant authorities and social support organisations for help, she was let down and ignored. Her plight was not taken seriously. Even so, Laiba continues to recover from her difficult life experiences and decided to join and help the very organisations and authorities that turned her away. How many of us would think about doing that - helping the very organisations that let us down in our time of need? Through working with the police, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) run by the NHS, and other social care organisations, Laiba is helping to raise awareness and understanding of the needs of people that are going through and recovering from trauma and supports in evaluating the effectiveness of the best practises in these groups. Laiba's amazing story is an inspiration and one that we will not forget.
Sagal Mohammed was the 14th person to receive the Young Achiever Award that night. Sagal has invested her time and effort in numerous charitable projects and goals, including being a Youth Ambassador for Universal Peace Federation UK. Her work has been integral in numerous projects and events. We have witnessed the start of Sagal's journey and are eager to see more of what she will do in the future.
19-year-old Maheraj Lian was next to speak and receive his award. While being an avid computer science student at the University of Exeter, Maheraj serves as a governor on the Cumberland Community School's local school board, where he works to assure the delivery of high-quality education of the same standard he received studying as an Orwell Scholar at Eton College. Furthermore, as a board trustee for We Belong, he participates in major decisions that advance the organisation's objective to ensure that young immigrants in the UK have fair access to their legal rights.
Madeleine Wray-Reynolds, a 24-year-old from Cheltenham, was the next person to receive the Young Achiever Award. Maddie is a very welcoming and engaging person and has an impressive ability to encourage her peers to speak out against injustice. As one of 16 appointed Girlguiding Advocates, Madeleine has taken part in many events such as roundtables and meetings with MPs on various subjects such as period poverty, the online harms bill, body image and gender equality in politics and participated in media interviews all while continuing to run Guide meetings every Wednesday evening and has recently taken on a Brownie Unit that was going to close due to lack of leaders. In total, Madeleine leads 60 7-14-year-olds through their Girlguiding journey. Not only this, Madeliene, after experiencing the tragic loss of her father in 2020, decided to support others that have also experienced loss by running and leading a monthly bereavement group for 18-35-year-olds in her community and is a host for the national charity 'Let's Talk About Loss'.
Mohammed Farhad Amir (MFA) Zaman, the next awardee, has done a swathe of voluntary projects and has embraced the notion of "living for the sake of others". A formerly homeless person and victim of slavery in the UK, MFA Zaman was one of the front-line volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic and, since 2019, he has been a front-line volunteer for the NHS. MFA Zaman founded 'Safe & Save' to serve and help homeless people around London and provides support and mentoring to people who are lonely and/or facing difficulties maintaining daily life. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, he served food to many homeless people in London and provides food and clothing during the winter. Including walking 100 miles in 10 days to raise funds for the NHS while fasting in Ramadan, MFA Zaman ran in the London Marathon and several half marathons to benefit disabled children who are involved in sports. As a result of his extensive service for others, MFA Zaman was selected by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to run with the Queen's baton during Her Platinum Jubilee in 2022.
As a young black professional, it quickly became apparent to Gabrielle Asare, the next awardee of the evening, that her educational background, intelligence and work experience were overshadowed by her race. Her personal experiences and obstacles she faced through her personal life and career journey are what birthed her project - Twogether Mentoring. Twogether Mentoring is an organisation that provides support for young people in the UK from disadvantaged backgrounds through tailored mentoring and coaching from professionals.
Sumuhan Santhiranesan, an International Relations student at the Queen Mary University of London, was the next to receive his award. Sumuhan was awarded the Young Achiever Award for his work as Centre Manager for Learning Labs Tuition Group in which he supported the education and tuition of Syrian and Afghan refugees in cooperation with his local Brent Council. Sumuhan continues to mentor and support young students as they make their way into further and higher education.
Last but not least, Youth and Students for Peace (YSP) in the UK were also given awards to commemorate their work for peace in the UK. YSP Coordinators Viola Dirnhofer and Alma Gaina were each presented with the Young Achiever Award and the Head of YSP-UK, Elliot Yamamoto, was presented with the UPF Young Ambassador for Peace Award by Shaun Bailey MP and Dean Russell MP. Youth and Students Peace (YSP) is a non-profit youth association founded by Rev. Hak Ja Han Moon to respond to the needs and struggles that young people face in our modern world and has since received ECOSOC Consultative Status with the United Nations in 2022. YSP's goals are to raise young leaders who can bring sustainable development, peace and prosperity to the world. YSP's goal here in the UK is to provide training, coaching and a framework for youth to create their own projects which support the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals 2030, via YSP's flagship training program: Peace Designer Training. YSP is looking to support and collaborate with charities, non-governmental organisations, existing institutions and individuals as there is a need to give young people a voice, to bring positive peace and change. The future is bright!
Due to the House of Commons restrictions, we are unable to share photos of the actual event.