Mai grew up in a Syria and was forced to flee during the revolution. She is currently studying at UWC Atlantic College in Glamorgan, South Wales.
Like many refugees, you had to leave Syria under dramatic circumstances…
Yes. Everything was normal before the revolution – my mum was a teacher and my dad worked for an oil company and as a designer, artist and shopkeeper. My younger brother and I had a regular life. But my mum was involved in demonstrations against the government. She was arrested twice, and then people kept telling her that she’d be taken again. Eventually, a friend said; ‘Leave Syria right now, because they want you.’ In one night, we had to pack up and escape. It was awful and upsetting. I had my friends and my life there, and it was all taken away.
It got worse, too…
Yes. I don’t regret leaving Syria, because I couldn’t lose my mum. She could have died there. But we went to Turkey, where we got told we could get a visa for Germany or Sweden. A guy called my father and had it all planned out. But he lied to us and stole all our money. We had been robbed. We returned to Lebanon, and it is rough for refugees there. There are a lot of racist people who are against us – although, I have to say, there were also many who helped us out, too.
How did Cogito step in and help you out?
My education was suffering. I was a good student but I’d missed almost two years of school. I felt so empty and lost. But then a friend of the family saw a Facebook page for Atlantic College. I applied and couldn’t believe it when I was accepted. I was screaming in the streets and hugging my father. I’m so thankful that Cogito sponsored me. If I’d stayed in Lebanon, I would not have even gone to school. And if we’d stayed in Syria, my mother could have been killed. I can’t imagine life without education. We need to help more people.
Do you hope to use your personal experiences to help others?
Of course. I’m studying global politics and I hope to do a politics degree at university, then return to Syria as a politician and make changes. I need to work for my country, that is my aim. I will help in any way I can.
Please make a difference to the lives of teenagers like Mai today by giving what you can.