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Mayor Sept 30

Lord Mayor hails College work with ESOL students as 'absolutely vital'

The Lord Mayor of York Chris Cullwick has hailed York College & University Centre’s “absolutely vital” work with our ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students.

During an official visit to College with the Lady Mayoress, the Lord Mayor admitted that he felt “touched” and “emotional” after listening in the Lecture Theatre to the stories behind some of the students’ long journeys to Sim Balk Lane as refugees.

Haroon Jan and Ajjaz Ahmadzai, both originally from Afghanistan, spoke in fluent English in front of the distinguished dignitaries and their fellow ESOL students from a wide range of other countries, including Turkey, Sudan, Kuwait, Ukraine, Albania, Eritrea, Guinea, Kurdistan, Iraq, El Salvador, Vietnam, Iran, Hong Kong and Hungary.

After the Lord Mayor had said a few words himself, he and his wife then joined the students to participate in an art lesson delivered by local artist Greg McGee.

ESOL courses are for people who are, or are intending to become, long-term UK residents with the intention to improve their knowledge of the English language to help secure jobs, gain promotions or generally improve their skills in the workplace.

On meeting, listening to and sharing a classroom with our students, the Lord Mayor said: “It was touching and quite emotional to hear the stories that have brought the (ESOL) students to York College. I’m just sorry not to have heard more of their stories, as I’m sure we could have been talking until the following morning.

“The work being done at York College is absolutely vital and I’m so pleased to see what’s going on here and that York as a city is as welcoming as it is. There are so many great examples of that – a recent one being how people have opened their hearts and homes to those in need of help from Ukraine.

“On the whole, we are a really welcoming city and I am proud to be the Mayor of the first city in the United Kingdom to declare itself a City of Human Rights.”

Bringing a spot of self-deprecating humour to the Lecture Theatre gathering, Haroon told of how, during his early days in York, a misunderstanding with bus drivers was leaving him out of pocket while he was still getting to grips with the English language.

Mistakenly assuming that he was being asked for his relationship status when buying a ticket, Haroon repeatedly confirmed that he was “single” before one day querying with his tickled tutors why he was always being asked if he was married or not.

They told him to start replying "No, a return, please!"

Ajjaz, meanwhile, told of the harrowing journey that brought him to the UK after he fled Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Travelling through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland and France, he told of how he was beaten by border police, injured himself scaling a five-metre high fence and survived at times on biscuits, cakes and drinking rain water from puddles.

He eventually made it to the UK on a treacherous, eight-hour boat crossing from Calais with 42 other people.

The boat had to be rescued after it ran out of fuel with Ajjaz’s face having turned blue with cold by that point.

He subsequently spent a week in London, a month in Leeds and now lives in Selby, where he has become a star player for Cawood Cricket Club and is described by tutor Helen Wilson as “a great ambassador for York College”.

Ajjaz’s brother also made it to the UK and now lives in Bristol after the pair had become separated six months into their travels after leaving Afghanistan together.

The Lady Mayoress told the students about her gold chains, revealing that they date back to 1570 and are made from 24 carat gold, while the Lord Mayor’s are a replica of the original 17th-century jewellery.

Both were also returning to York College, where they were once employed in different roles.

The Lord Mayor provided chaplaincy support for students and staff and oversaw the establishment of the Oasis Room as a place for spiritual refreshment, exploration and counsel.

He also worked closely with the Construction & Skills Centre in his previous role as Master of the York Guild of Building.

The Lady Mayoress worked at College as a counsellor and psychotherapist, including the delivery of counsellor training.

Greg McGee’s art class saw the students draw suitcases, filled with whatever they would like to take with them the most on their travels.