Runner from Milton Keynes inspired by charity project helping young refugees

Tala El Samad
Tala El Samad

A charity project helping young refugees to rebuild their lives inspired a student to strap on her running shoes for the Royal Parks half-marathon.

Tala El Samad, 25, braved rainy conditions and took on the 13.1 mile challenge around London’s Royal parks to raise money for Surviving to Thriving, a support project assisting vulnerable children and teenagers who have fled conflict, persecution and torture and have arrived, alone, in the UK.

Tala, a student at Cranfield University, said: “Now that it’s all over it feels bittersweet. I’m so proud of completing the run especially when less than a year ago I thought that a back injury wouldn’t let me ever run, and for raising £800 for a project I totally believe in and have seen how it works.”

The cause is close to Tala’s heart, as she joined the project herself as a volunteer last year.

She added: “The Surviving to Thriving project appealed to me because it was targeted towards young people who have been through tough times which no child should go through. It’s very heart-warming and rewarding to know you’re having a positive effect.”

“Volunteering gives you a real proximity to the people you’re helping and at some point while running I just couldn’t contain my feelings; I knew I was smiling, laughing and tearing up all at once.”

Over 150 young refugees and people seeking asylum have been supported in the East of England through Surviving to Thriving, a charity partnership between British Red Cross, the Refugee Council and UpRising. Through support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the project offers workshops on rights and entitlements; group sessions to build confidence, skills and social networks; one-to-one and group therapeutic counselling; and personal development and social action schemes.

Originally from Lebanon, Tala moved to the UK to do a PhD in clean energy at Cranfield University. Growing up in one of the world’s top host countries for refugees, she herself has seen the need for safe spaces for those who have been displaced.

She said: “Lebanon has received many refugees and there’s a lot of contact between them and citizens; they’re always interacting with each other. I wished I could do something to help so when I got to the UK I started looking for opportunities to volunteer with refugees and I found a position with the British Red Cross.”

Tala has also found that her own experience of moving to an unfamiliar country has helped her relate to the challenges faced by the young refugees that she supports.

She explained: “Surviving to Thriving gives young people an opportunity to integrate within their community. This is really important to me, especially because I’m not from the UK and when I arrived in the UK it wasn’t very easy to integrate.

“Even now I still struggle a bit with belonging, but volunteering with the British Red Cross has really helped me. We all need that opportunity to get involved in our surroundings.”

The money raised will go directly towards funding group activities and fun outings for vulnerable young people — a thought that kept Tala motivated through months of training.

She said: “The journey has been amazing and the support from the British Red Cross team and people around me has been absolutely fantastic. I’m looking forward to finding new opportunities to support the Surviving to Thriving project.”

To support Tala’s fundraising and many young refugees in the UK, please donate via https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Tala-El-Samad.

To find out more about Surviving to Thriving, visit www.redcross.org.uk/thriving