Student with no laptop forced to handwrite her GCSEs gets surprise lifeline

For the first few weeks of lockdown Mariama Sanneh, 15, was forced to write out all her GCSE coursework by hand, using a pad of paper and a pen.

Writing an essay and making corrections took her days instead of hours. Like many pupils across the UK, she had been put at a disadvantage because she didn’t have access to a laptop to support her homeschooling.

A few weeks later, Integrate UK, a Bristol-based youth-led charity that works to empower young people, not only supplied the Bristol schoolgirl with a laptop, they also provided her with two sessions of one-on-one tutoring for maths and English each week, with the help of National Lottery funding.

“I was so stressed at first,” says Mariama. “I struggled to keep up with my schoolwork because it used to take me so long to do everything. I was falling further and further behind every day. It was horrible.”

The charity also provided a number of workshops enabling Mariama and others to work online to create an animation addressing the important issues of racism and islamophobia.

“We made an animation called ‘Hijabs and Miniskirts’ which was about issues we felt were important, such as judging people for how they looked and what they wore, says Mariama. “It was really fun and it meant I could speak to other people rather than just my family.”

Integrate UK does not shy away from tackling big topics such as sexual harassment, gender stereotypes and racism, and previously it would go into schools to run workshops. It also works closely with scriptwriters and directors to help young people make films about the topics affecting them. However, like most charities, it has had to switch to largely online sessions throughout lockdown.

“After two weeks of lockdown it quickly became obvious that there was a socio-economic divide and many young people didn’t have access to laptops or space to study,” says Amaal Ali (above), project manager at Integrate UK. “Thanks to National Lottery funding we could fund online tutoring and provided around 60 sessions a week in the first lockdown. On top of this we ran 18 workshops a week ranging from art to photography to animation.”

The charity works with a diverse group of young people including ethnic minorities and those from a white British background in an attempt to show young people how much they have in common as well as learning about, and celebrating, their differences.

National Lottery players have raised £1billion to help people across the UK during these unprecedented times, helping thousands of good causes just like Integrate UK.

As well as supporting her education, Mariama credits Integrate UK for opening her eyes to many different topics.

“I didn’t really know anything about grooming before, but it was an issue we talked about at Integrate UK,” says Mariama. “Knowing about it helped me spot the signs in one of my classmates. I was worried they were being groomed, so I told a teacher. I’ve hopefully managed to save her from being drawn into some pretty nasty stuff.”

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