When Sam Muradi arrived in the UK and claimed asylum he had travelled over land through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France and Belgium.
The prospect of such a journey would have proved intimidating to most people, but for Sam the life he was leaving behind was far more onerous than the odyssey ahead. He was fleeing Kabul – the Afghan capital – a city torn apart by war.
Exhausted, hungry and alone, he disembarked from the ferry at Dover, unsure at that stage whether he was in fact in the UK. His English was limited to three words – “bread”, “water” and “thank you”.
He was 24, with no friends or family in England.
Today, as the owner of Rainbow News, a newsagent on Golborne Road, he is well-known to the locals as a familiar and friendly face in their daily routine – but behind the jovial exterior is a story of self-improvement in which he says adult education has played an enormous part.
He still keeps every certificate has been awarded since arriving in the UK.
“I am very fond of the college,” he said. “The teachers are very good and I have been back there, and elsewhere, to study many times.”
In his previous life, he had travelled very little outside Kabul, the provinces of Afghanistan being too dangerous during the fighting which led to and followed the invasion by Soviet forces in 1979.
His cousin was killed during infighting between different factions in the conflict, and Sam was to witness the effect of the carnage first-hand many times, having trained as a nurse when he was a teenager and tended to many of the wounded.
As he reflects on his life, Sam says any adult who thinks they’ve missed their chance to get qualified and improve their life is simply mistaken.
“People come in to the shop sometimes and tell me there are no opportunities,” he said. “I tell them this is rubbish. Just rubbish. There are always opportunities if you’re prepared to work hard. But you have to find those opportunities. They won’t come and just knock on your door.”
When he was admitted into the UK, after five nights of detention in Dover, he was told by immigration officials that he would struggle in London. “London is a big place,” he was told. “You will be lost”.
Luckily, during his detention, he made contact with an Afghan community leader in Harlesden whose name he had been given by another migrant.
When he was released, it was this solitary contact who met him from the coach station at Victoria and got him in to temporary accommodation from where he was able to find English language training in Warwick Avenue.
This training was the start of a long journey to mastering a language extremely different from his native Farsi and the only secondary language he had learned at home – Russian.
He went on to study at Kensington and Chelsea College and Westminster Kingsway College.
He knew lack of English was his biggest obstacle and focused on English lessons for a few years. His longer-term goal was a degree and, having the appropriate A-levels, he followed in the footsteps of thousands of English students by taking on an Access to Higher Education course in social science and humanities.
This enabled him to progress on to and complete a full degree in politics – the intention at that time being that he would return to Afghanistan and work in Government.
By this time, he had become – by his own admission – a habitual student. He took the opportunity to study further, completing a computer course and gaining a qualification in health and social care, having at one point considered a career as a social worker.
As the studying continued, his confidence grew.
He spent several years running a market stall on the Portobello Road.
As well as getting on in his working life, Sam devoted much of his time to helping others, giving up his time as a volunteer for the charity Sixty Plus, which helps older people to live independently.
He acted as a home visitor, relishing the chance to use his new-found English language skills by keeping them company in their homes to alleviate boredom and accompanying them out and about in the community – as well as turning his hand to gardening.
The charity described him as a “very caring, empathetic person.”
As he became more immersed in the local community, he decided to take over a newsagent. It was a big undertaking. He had to find the equivalent of six months’ rent up front to take over the rental of the shop itself and a further much larger sum to take over the existing newsagent business and stock.
He said: “I borrowed from friends, family and the bank. It was a big commitment but it has paid off. It is hard work but successful.
“Now I have many students from the college who come to the shop. So after doing all those courses, I am actually running a business round the corner from the college. Things have come full circle.
“If I can be a success, anybody can. People who are born in this country speak English. English is all you need – not just here but around the world.
“I did find it hard to learn English – it is so different from the languages I know – but once you have the language you just have so many opportunities to learn more.
“You just need to keep going back. Learn the next thing. And the next thing. You just have to work hard and you will succeed.
“Kensington and Chelsea College was the beginning of everything.”
Date published: 8 June 2017