Leeds teenager wins award for giving young Afghan refugees a warm welcome

A teenage boy has been given an award for helping refugees from Afghanistan settle into life at an east Leeds school.

By Richard Beecham
Monday, 11th July 2022, 12:35 pm

Amran Neshat, 16, a fluent speaker of Darsi/Farsi, broke down the language barrier for new pupils at John Smeaton Academy, supporting teachers with translation and providing a warm welcome for refugees who had fled the Taliban in the past year.

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Returning for the first time since 2020, the awards were presented at an incredible ‘futuristic’ ceremony at Leeds City Varieties Hall. The event also marked the celebration of Child Friendly Leeds’ 10th birthday.

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Amran Neshat with Lord Mayor of Leeds Bob Gettings.

John Smeaton Academy welcomed 12 secondary-aged Afghan students in October last year and now has 35 students from the country, in addition to two Ukrainian pupils, with another joining soon. Since joining The GORSE Academies Trust in September 2021, John Smeaton Academy has embraced the Trust’s ethos of helping those in times of difficulty or facing disadvantage.

Zira Hanif, Assistant Principal at John Smeaton Academy, said: “We feel passionately about ensuring our school is a ‘sanctuary’ for all young people - especially those who have experienced the trauma of war, the upheaval of moving to a new country with limited belongings and may be experiencing grief and displacement from their parents, carers and families.

“John Smeaton Academy has always been a school with a white British majority. Our students are now more exposed to a multitude of cultures and have responded in such a welcoming and inclusive manner. We have created a safe place for our refugees to learn and are working to strengthen the school’s role in the local community to look after the wellbeing of everyone both inside and outside of school.

“Our new pupils have changed the demographic of the school in an incredibly positive way and our existing children increasingly understand the basic human right to sanctuary. It has been an absolute honour to welcome our refugees and we are so proud of how they have all settled in and embraced their new environment.

"Amran deserves an extra special mention – his awe-inspiring compassion is something our entire school community is incredibly proud of.”

Planned and delivered by a group of 10 to 17-year-olds, the ceremony was attended by an audience of 400 people, including the Lord Mayor of Leeds, city leaders and VIP guests.

Fiona Venner (Lab), Leeds City Council's executive member for adult and children’s social care, said: “The event is unique because it is planned and delivered by young people and showcases talented young people from across our city. I would like to congratulate the winners, those shortlisted and all the nominees - they have all made, and continue to make, remarkable contributions to our child friendly ambition.

“The awards would not be possible without the ongoing support of our incredible network of business ambassadors, and so a special thanks also goes out to all of them. Our Child Friendly Leeds ambition is a citywide partnership approach, and it is so wonderful that so many organisations and people across our city share our passion for, and commitment to, being a child friendly city and these awards are a great opportunity for us to recognise them and commend their valuable work and tireless dedication.

“We are always looking for more businesses to join our network of committed ambassadors and help make Leeds the best city for children and young people to grow up in.”

Other award winners include:

Youth Group of the Year

Rothwell Windmill Youth Club: This tenacious group started meeting their youth workers in the local park when they couldn’t access their club building during the pandemic. They committed to meeting regularly outdoors throughout, to support each other with their mental health through this difficult period. The group surpassed expectations campaigning to save their group and supported their community through the pandemic.

Adult Making a Difference for Young People

Julie Roper: Julie is a longstanding member of the Girls’ Brigade and is an inspiring role model for young girls. She promotes a healthy lifestyle, community spirit and the importance of being an active citizen and supporting others. During the pandemic, she continued badge work, games and competitions for the girls and became a valuable source of support.

Schools Award for Local Heroes

Zarach Leeds and Bex Wilson: Bex founded Zarach in 2018. The charity began by providing a proper bed to children living in Leeds without one. They have since expanded their services to offer food clubs, emergency electricity and gas supplies, school uniform exchange, and holiday projects and are committed to improving outcomes for children experiencing hardship.

Inspiring Creativity Through Arts and Culture

LS18 Rocks: During the pandemic, young musicians at LS18 Rocks excelled themselves by raising thousands for charity. They recorded a song that attracted worldwide publicity and funded an older person’s social project, staged fundraising concerts for refugees and also launched a project to raise climate change awareness that has resulted in a collaboration with the world-famous Hallé Orchestra.

Best Place in Leeds for Children and Young People

Think Like a Pony: Think Like a Pony is a supportive place for children of all ages with emotional, behavioural and mental health challenges. Young people work directly with ponies that have experienced similar challenges. Mentored by knowledgeable staff who teach invaluable coping strategies for everyday life, they are supported to make positive changes and build confidence and self-esteem.

Overall Contribution to Making Leeds a Child Friendly City

Leeds Baby Bank: Leeds Baby Bank supports families across Leeds, who require baby essentials. From nappies and formula to buggies, clothing, and toys; they provide everything needed to support families caring for pre-school children. They not only ensure children are safe, clothed, and fed, but also connect families to other services in their area for ongoing support.

The awards were hosted by City Varieties and were sponsored by The Grammar School at Leeds, Trinity Leeds, White Rose Shopping Centre, Victoria Leeds, City Varieties and First Direct Arena.