A MOTHER who had never been to school before she arrived in Wrexham as a refugee and is about to start a nursing degree has won a major award in recognition of her commitment to adult learning.

When Fatma Al Nahdy made the journey to the UK from Yemen in 2015, she didn’t speak any English. She was pregnant with her son and 35 years old. Due to the ongoing wars and turbulent situation in Yemen she had never attended school.

Fatma could speak two languages fluently but didn’t know how to read or write. Her son was born not long after she arrived, and she was determined to build a better life for him. So, when she was offered the chance to enroll on an English as a Second Language (ESOL) course at Coleg Cambria, she was nervous but excited to take on a new challenge.

Just five years later, Fatma has completed ESOL as well as a Level 2 Diploma in Skills for Further Study and a Level 3 Access to Higher Education course. She passed her GCSE maths and English and has continued to broaden her knowledge by enrolling on ECDL, beginner’s Welsh and interpretation courses.

Fatma’s goal has always been to become a nurse. She was recently accepted onto a nursing degree at Bangor University and has been awarded the ‘Different Pasts: Shared Futures’ Inspire! Award, a recognition of her commitment to lifelong learning.

Fatma is one of 12 winners to be recognised at the 2021 Inspire! Awards. Co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, the Inspire! Awards recognise those who have demonstrated a commitment to lifelong learning, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities.

The Inspire! Awards are part of Adult Learners’ Week, which this year takes place from 20-26 September. Throughout Adult Learners’ Week, people across Wales will be able to take part in taster sessions and live online sessions to inspire them to keep learning throughout their lives.

For Fatma, learning English was an essential part of getting settled and starting her new life in Wales, but her ESOL course also helped her to discover a love of learning.

She said: “My learning journey started when I arrived in the UK. I spoke no English and I can’t read and write in my own language although I can speak Arabic and Swahili. It was very difficult for me to communicate with others.

“I was nervous for the first class. I knew I would be meeting lots of new people, and I was very shy at first. But it was a lovely class, my tutors helped me to see the fun in learning and after a couple of months I started to feel more comfortable and more confident in my English.

“Wales is much more friendly than London. It was easy for me to practice my English because people are always happy to have a conversation with you. Learning English meant I was able to get out and build links with the community.

“I realised that I enjoyed the challenge of learning something new. Now I can speak, read, and write and understand English very well. I can read letters independently, go to the GP without a translator and support my son with his schoolwork.”

As well as the challenge of learning new things, Fatma is motivated by her desire for her son to have a better life.

She continued: “My son is my motivation and inspiration. Learning during the pandemic was challenging because I was also homeschooling and caring for him. Remote learning is not my preferred way of learning, but I am doing okay.

“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, all the courses I’ve taken up to this point are to help me reach that goal. It hasn’t been easy, but I managed to adapt and progress and now I’m closer than ever before to achieving my dream. I can’t wait to start my nursing degree next year.

“I enjoy learning two or three things at a time, it helps me to discover new things about myself. I want to stay living in Wrexham. I’m proud of my community, and I want to contribute to it more in the future, so now that I’m fluent in English I’ve started learning Welsh.”

When she arrived in Wales as a refugee, Fatma received support from various organisations who helped her settle into life in the UK. Now, Fatma gives back by interpreting for other refugees like her, arriving in Wrexham with no English.

Fatma said: “I am very grateful to be where I am, and I’d like to thank my tutors for helping me get there. They told me I was intelligent; nobody had ever told me that in my entire life. They motivated me to continue on my journey to nursing.

“I will never forget the support I had from the community organisations helping refugees. When I arrived in Wales, I didn’t know about any of the help that was available for me. I stayed in touch with the women who helped me and they’re like family now, my son has two ‘forever grandmas’.

“Homestart arranged transport for me to get to and from college when getting public transport would have been very difficult. I had help with childcare for my son, and support with reading and responding to important letters.

“Without all that support, I still wouldn’t be able to read and write. But here I am winning a national award. Sometimes I still can’t believe it. Before I started learning, I didn’t have any dreams. Now, I’m on my way to a career I love where I will be able to help and care for other people.

“My advice to anyone else thinking of taking up a course as an adult is to manage your time and focus on your goals – education is the key to life.”

Adult Learners’ Week celebrates lifelong learning, whether in educational institutions, through work, at home or as a leisure activity. From 20-26th September, adults across Wales will be able to access taster sessions and courses, as well as success stories that show how learning a new skill can help you change your story.

Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said: “Congratulations to all the winners and nominees in this year’s Inspire! Awards. There’s some really powerful stories behind this year’s participants, with some great examples of people overcoming personal challenges in their commitment to learning, and it’s important to celebrate the achievements of everyone who took part. Well done everyone!”

David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute said: “What better way to realise the value of adult learning than to hear the uplifting stories of our Inspire! Award winners. Each and every one of our winners demonstrates the benefits lifelong learning can bring – from improving mental wellbeing, to gaining the skills to land a new job.”

“We hope their incredible stories will inspire people across Wales to take that first step back into education. Whatever your motivation for gaining new skills, there’s never been a better time to change your story.”

To find out what’s going on during Adult Learners’ Week, and for personalised advice on your own learning options and support available, get in touch with Working Wales on 0800 028 4844 or search www.workingwales.gov.wales.