It was the first day of action in what is being called the most ambitious #DMUglobal trip so far – and more than 200 De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) students found out what it was like to really make a difference to those in need across Europe.
The students travelled through the continent working to support refugees in four different cities in a project organised between #DMUglobal, the university’s pioneering international experiences programme, and #DMUlocal, the award-winning project that brings about change in communities.
The students flew from the UK in four groups to Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin to get hands-on experience working with groups or communities supporting refugees and other disadvantaged people.
From tomorrow the students will come together in the German capital to take part in a DMU event focused around the concept of global citizenship.
Many will also take part in academic trips, relevant to their degrees, to add to their learning at DMU, inspiring each student with distinct experiences that will prepare them to enter the global jobs market.
DMU students in Brussels began their visit to the city by travelling to Serve the City, a global movement of volunteers providing practical support for the homeless and refugees. It was started in Brussels in 2005 and is now active in 100 cities around the world.
The centre is a lifeline for those without a home, offering them a warm, dry and safe place to stay each night. Students helped to prepare a nutritious breakfast for those who had stayed at the centre overnight and handed out toiletry kits. A total of 300 meals were made-up and served by DMU students
Speech and Language Therapy student Dinithi O’Gorman said: “It’s all about finding out what we can do to make their day better in a small way.”
DMU Law student Kalem Todd added: “It’s a great experience. We’re in a different country and finding out about the circumstances some of these people have faced. It has been a good experience to come here and do something so worthwhile.”
In Paris, students visited Utopia 56, an organisation that mobilises citizens to support refugees living on the streets across the capital and beyond.
First they learned about Utopia 56’s mission, followed by volunteering at its migrant centre, which included assisting vulnerable people, sorting through donations and preparing items such as hygiene kits.
Symone Ashley, a Business, Economics and International Relations MA student, said: “It was an overwhelming experience and challenging.
“I’ve taken away so many things from today. It’s made me appreciate what I have in my life and makes me want to do more to make a difference.”
While in Paris, students will also be visiting the Emmaus Centre to see how it supports families with crucial issues such as healthcare, education, accommodation and employment, and will learn about the contributions made by immigrants to France’s economic, social and cultural development through the Repères exhibition at the Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigrati.
To round off their Paris trip, the students will be given a tour of the British Embassy by the British Ambassador to France, Edward Llewellyn.
In Amsterdam, students visited the Tassenmuseum, alongside the Herengracht canal which historically was the most luxurious address in the city in merchants’ times.
The museum has curated a new exhibition of bags and cases used by refugees forced to flee their country. It highlights the creativity and resourcefulness shown by refugees and considers the difficulty of knowing what to bring and what to leave.
Mental Health Nursing student Jabulani Ndlovu was moved by what he saw. He came to the UK as a refugee himself to escape the Mugabe regime and has previously said that studying to work for the NHS is ‘payback’ to the people in Britain who have offered him support since arriving in the country.
Now a naturalised UK citizen with a wife and four children, Jabulani said: “You can see pictures here of buildings that are torn apart and yet people picked what they could. It shows us sometimes that what may not seem to matter to you, matters to them. I have learned a lot today.”
The students also visited the University of Amsterdam, the largest university in the Netherlands, to meet the people behind Right to Education, an organisation which is supporting the Dutch refugee community by providing free language lessons.
Jess Bogic, from #DMUlocal, said: “The students are learning about the different projects happening here at the university. Hopefully they can take something back with them to Leicester and look at projects that we might be able to run together.”
Students arrived in Berlin on Monday and are preparing to work with refugees around the city starting early on Tuesday morning and throughout Wednesday. They will be working with the Red Cross and holding discussions with refugees at Marienfelde Refugee Centre Museum. Visits are also planned to the Real Junk Food Project, helping the team prepare meals for refugees using good food that would otherwise have gone to waste.