ARE YOU HOMELESS, SOFA SURFING OR AT RISK?

Jasmin Banner

"Nobody can tell I’m a refugee girl from what I’ve achieved."

Jasmin Akter, 19, is a Rohingya refugee. Her parents fled Burma to find refuge in a camp in Bangladesh where Jasmin was born. Sadly, Jasmin’s father passed away before her birth, and the six remaining members of her family lived in one bare room for the next eight years until they were granted asylum in the UK.

Years later, through Centrepoint and Street Child United, Jasmin represented England at the 2019 Street Child Cricket World Cup.

Since then, everything has changed for Jasmin and she was named one of the BBC's 100 Women of 2019. She is passionate about campaigning against gender inequality and has become a youth leader - even speaking in the House of Commons.

Here, she tells her story in her own words.

Jasmin's Story

Growing up in a refugee camp

Living in the camp wasn’t easy for us. We all lived in a small room. The house was made out of branches and when it was windy, the roof would fly away. We had to sleep on the bare earth. We had no mats or pillow. As a girl, I had no privacy – there was only one room and the six of us had to squash in together. When I look back at my life as it was then, I class it as living in hell.

I didn’t know there was a world outside the camp. I didn’t have an education. I didn’t even know there were other countries in the world.

Coming to the UK

I think I was seven when I came to the UK, but it’s hard to know because we don’t have our accurate date of births. As refugees, we didn’t have identities - we didn’t have passports or birth certificates. I was born in the camp so I didn’t have a legal identity.

I went back to the refugee camp in December. The first time I walked back into the camp, I had tears in my eyes. I was thinking about how much I’d changed and I felt really bad for the people that were still there. I still have family members that live there. It made me realise how lucky I am. That was me 10 years ago.

Finding happiness in sport

When I was about 12 my mum was in a car accident which left her paralysed, so my brothers and I look after her. I had to grow up really quickly and take on the responsibility of the house. I did miss out on a lot of opportunities, but I don’t see it like that. I see it as something that made me stronger. It encouraged me to take up sport and it’s made me the person I am today.

When mum first had her accident, I went into a deep depression. My teacher noticed that I wasn’t myself. I sat down with that teacher and I told him everything. He said I was talented and encouraged me to come to a cricket session to help me socialise with people my age.

Ever since that day, I loved playing cricket. It got me out of my depression. It gave me new hope. Football was always my first choice because I’d always played it as a child on the streets in Bangladesh. There wasn’t a platform for girls so I used to play with the boys.

I carried on playing football at school in the UK and I was offered a scholarship to America, but I couldn’t leave my mum. I didn’t want to leave my mum.

It’s always been one of my dreams to go to America. I had that opportunity, but nothing meant more to me than my mum. At that time, she was in a critical condition.

That’s when I stopped playing cricket. I was playing for West Yorkshire. I think I was worried that I might get other opportunities that I would have to turn down and that would make me feel bad about myself and I’d get depressed again, so I thought it’s better not to play at all.

Centrepoint and Street Child Cricket World Cup

I had stopped playing cricket for a year or two. That’s when Centrepoint came along. I was helping out at a youth club called Wickets. Although I couldn’t take up opportunities, I wanted to encourage little children to take up sport.

Chloe, an engagement officer from Centrepoint got me involved in the Street Child Cricket World Cup. Since then so many things have happened. It changed my life completely. I could not even imagine how much.

Opportunities

Through Centrepoint and Street Child United, I got the opportunity to speak in the Houses of Parliament. I spoke about gender equality - something that means a lot to me. I wanted people to hear my voice. As a child, I faced a lot of discrimination because I was a girl, I didn’t get as many opportunities. I wanted to raise awareness and to change things for other young women like me.

I am now a young leader with Street Child United. And through them I have been given the opportunity to speak at other events and I feel really proud to speak out about gender inequality.

I have also had the chance to travel to France, Spain and America. It was like a dream come true. I went to Miami in America, just like I had wished. Although I didn’t get the opportunity to take up the scholarship, I still made it to the USA.

It’s because of Centrepoint that I was connected with Street Child and through those two organisations, I ended up being named one of the BBC’s 100 Women of 2019.

My message is: treat everyone the same. Nobody can tell I’m a refugee girl from what I’ve achieved. I’ve been through so much in life, but that has been my strength. You just have to wait for the right time and something good will happen. If you give someone the right platform, the right support and encouragement – then that person will never let you down.

Jasmin has recently set up a crowdfunder to provide cricket and football equipment for other Rohingya refugees - support her here.

Share

Read more incredible stories