Writing home

What makes a home? Is it where you keep your belongings? Is it where you were born? For children all over the country there are many reasons why this question might be difficult to answer

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While most children have happy and secure lives, there are an estimated 210,000 children in England who don’t have a safe home.

This can happen for a number of reasons, like if parents lose their jobs or if families arrive from other countries without money or belongings. Many families who can’t afford a proper home end up living in hostels, hotels, old offices and warehouses or even shipping containers. You might not see them sleeping on the streets but these children are homeless.

Around 73,000 children in England are in care, which means they are looked after by people who aren’t their parents. They may live in a foster home, with a new family, or in a children’s home where it’s up to staff to cook their meals and make sure they brush their teeth and go to bed on time.

Although all the children at Unity Community Primary live in Manchester many of them were born in different countries. They have come to the area for a huge range of reasons – there may be better jobs for their parents here, or better houses than where they came from, they may have had to leave their countries because they were unsafe, or maybe they came because the city has great football teams!

For so many children, for so many reasons, there is no straightforward answer to “what makes a home?” Big Issue North asked Unity pupils to think about it and five of them from Year 5 have chosen to share their incredible answers with you.

Tala, age 10, is from Syria but fled to Manchester when the war there meant it became too dangerous to stay.

I have two homes – one is Syria and one is Manchester.

I started off in my life feeling bright and very happy, but the happiness didn’t last very long before it just faded away.

I was four years old and was just like any other four year old, but suddenly a distant and unpleasant bomb appeared and then there were fires and guns.

The war started because someone invaded the place and revolution began in the place where I belong – my country, Syria.

We had a flat and a big house where all my family lived – my two uncles, my grandparents and my dad. All the male relatives who lived with us in the flat went outside to fight and my grandma hurried me and the rest of my cousins into the space at the bottom of the stairs. We went to another house and stayed there for about two days.

We never stayed in one place. We always had to move away to a different home – it was very difficult. There was one time when we stayed for about three months in the same place and we went to school but our school got bombed.

My big sister was playing on the slide when the building collapsed and she was crying so I went to her. I didn’t want her to die on her own. The teacher then came and moved us all out of the way. We were not hurt and our parents came by car and took us away and they also helped a lot of other children to get out of the building.

Our parents always did what they could to support us and make us feel spoilt by getting everything we wanted. My dad was rich but other kids out there had to live a nasty life. Me and my sister didn’t realise that there was another side to life because we were that spoilt. Then my dad decided to go to another city.

We went there because the war got closer and we moved again to be near our cousins. My sister was born there, but my dad had just had enough and he made a hard decision. After we had been living two years of scariness, my dad gave up and he said we had to leave.

My dad left first to travel to Europe. He earned money and got a house and he worked very hard to make a future for us so we could then join him. We stayed in Syria without him for eight months – it was tough. My mum and half sister travelled to Turkey, but me and my sister stayed with my grandma. After 10 days we went on an aeroplane to Turkey and when we were at the airport the second I caught sight of my dad I dropped everything and dashed to him with the loudest scream.

We stayed in Turkey for two months and we had a swimming pool outside our house. It was like we were on vacation. Then my grandma had to leave to go back to Syria – we were crying so much and even my cousins were crying.

We took four planes to get to England and flew into Manchester. My dad said this was the place where I could get the best education. We used to learn English at school and after we left my dad carried on teaching me. After two months I learnt fluent English.

I was born in Syria and most of my family are still there but I don’t know anything about it now. It was a nice country before the war.

I have been in Unity Primary School for about four or five years and Manchester is my home. THIS IS HOME. I belong here and I feel safe here.

Matthew, age nine, originally comes from the small tropical island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, with a population of around 4,500.

For me home will always be Saint Helena. That was where I made my first friends and it is where my dad is.

I lived in Saint Helena with my mum and dad and my little sister. I lived in a small place called Bottom Woods and it was quiet with not many people. I went to Harfwood School and it was a lot smaller that Unity. In my school there were classes up to year six and there were
17 children in my class.

When I was not at school, I would play with my sister and watch TV and sometimes fish with my dad.

At first my mum and her parents came to England with my little sister because my mum was studying to be a dentist and there was more opportunity for her to learn in England. She had got a flat and about three months later my dad and I came to join her but my dad went back after a week because he still had a job in Saint Helena – he is an electrician. My Nan and Papa were living with us for about seven months but they moved back to St Helena too.

I have been here since July 2018 and I got a place at Unity from September that year. When I first came to the school I was really shy, because the building was so big and there were so many children that I didn’t know.

It was very different. The lessons felt faster than the ones I remember in Saint Helena. I like reading cartoony books. The books I remember being in the library back in Saint Helena were quite hard for children to read and had lots and lots of words.

My sister Georgia is five and she is now in reception at Unity.

There are lots more things to do in Manchester than in Saint Helena. I think I may go back when I am older, probably. I miss my friends and my dad but he rings as often as he can.

Rasan, age 10, was born in Norway and has lived in Kurdistan, where his family is from.

I came to England three years ago because of my football ability. I am good and there are not many good teams in Norway so my dad decided to bring the family to live here.

I was born in Norway but when I was three my family went to live in Kurdistan, where my parents are from, and then we returned to Norway before coming here.

At first my parents, my older brother and I lived with my cousins near Stockport while we bought our house in Manchester.

I have been coming to Unity for three years. When I came here at first all I knew was “yes” and “no” in English and I would just use signs to make myself understood – like thumbs up. Other pupils helped me to learn the language. I was brought up speaking Norwegian because I was born there, I also speak Kurdish from my parents, a bit of Arabic, Swedish and a bit of Turkish, because my dad used to live there and we go there for holidays.

In Manchester the weather is bad, but the football teams are good. I play for Manchester City Academy and it is my dream to become a professional. My older brother plays for Crumpsall and he has been accepted for a place at Manchester United Academy.

I consider Kurdistan to be my home because I have more family there, I go on holiday there regularly and although there is trouble there, that is the place I like best and I feel like I belong.

Hadiya, aged eight, is from Finland and her family is from Afghanistan.

If someone asks me “Where are you from?” I say Finland because that is where I was born. However my parents were both born in Afghanistan.

I came to England when I was in Year One and I came to Manchester with my parents. Now I have a little sister, Husnau, who is one. She is cute but she is also greedy and she always gets what she wants.

I spent a lot of time living in Finland with my mum and dad, where we had a big house – it was very good. We did also go to Afghanistan on holidays because my mum wanted to visit my grandma and grandad.

When I came here I could not speak any English at all. Obviously it was really hard and it was hard to do the lessons. I could speak Finnish and the language of Afghanistan. I didn’t understand any of the lessons, but my teacher taught me how to speak English when I was in Year One. My parents learnt to speak English, because I taught them, and my sister is good at singing “Doo-doo-doo-doo” along to Baby Shark.

Finland was fun because there was a humungous red castle in a park with lots of rooms and I would play there with my friends. Afghanistan was very sandy – it was nice but my family and myself did not always feel safe. We would stay with my cousins and they had a huge house and we still go back to visit them sometimes.

Manchester is very safe. That’s why we came to live here. I live in a house that has an upstairs and I like that. I can learn lots of things and I have made some really good friends.

When you ask me about home I say Finland. I don’t think England will ever be where I feel I am at home, but it will always be where I feel safe.

Gatish, age 10, is from Afghanistan.

My home is in Afghanistan and when I am older I may go back, but I can’t remember a lot about when I lived there.

When I was four years old, my parents took me and my little brother in a plane and we flew to India where we lived for a year. Then my parents decided to come and live in England – my cousins were already living in London with my aunt and uncle.

We came straight to Manchester and my dad started work selling t-shirts and hats in a shop. I was five years old and I don’t remember much about when we first came here but I remember I couldn’t speak any English. I spoke Pashtu. My parents also didn’t speak any English and they struggled.

I went to a primary school in Manchester and I started learning English from the children I was at school with but I found it very hard. When we were in lessons my teacher would go on Google Translate and put the words on the board for me.

When I was seven, I found the language a little easier and now I feel good about speaking English but at home I still speak Pashtu. My mum and dad have learnt a little bit of English but my younger brother who is now seven speaks the best. My little sister is two and was born here.

My favourite lesson in school is maths. I like playing games at school and I like that my school has lots of different people from different backgrounds.

Living here, life is good. I get to speak English now. I like football and I like Ronaldo.

My dad’s parents moved to live in Russia along with my uncle and I no longer have any family living in Afghanistan, but I still think of it as my home.

Photos: Danny Mendieta

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