~ Rene ~ 2020 ~


~ Rene ~ 2020 ~


I arrived in the UK on 10 August 1990 with my mum and 2 brothers from Uganda seeking asylum following Idi Amin’s reign of terror on our family. My mum had worked for the British High Commission and Amin’s soldiers were always raiding our house and taking my dad away and my dad – well, I think he was part of the church mafia but his plaque at work said he worked as Chairman for P & O Ferries (in a landlocked country).

My mum had done the research on coming to the UK and she had everything set up for when we arrived. She knew which offices to go to for accommodation and to get help settling in. One of the main drivers for her was that she was a victim of domestic violence, with my dad being very jealous of her role as a diplomat and her social standing within Uganda’s elite.

I was in boarding school, I had been there since I was 5 years old and when she collected me, she told me of her plans to come to London. I had been obsessed with London for years as mum would bring me back VHS tapes of WHAM, The Beatles and Fawlty Towers. I remember thinking that London was this place, were people had swimming pools and hang around in bikinis (WHAM), but that the older people were a bit mad and eccentric (Fawlty Towers) and that young girls run around screaming at boys (A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles). It looked like an amazing place. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

We flew from Kampala to Ethiopia in the middle of the night whilst my dad was away on “P&O”/Church business, we never said goodbye to him. Then from Ethiopia to London Heathrow. I just remember how bright the lights were in Heathrow. I remember thinking “Wow, where are the swimming pools?

I’ve been in the UK for 29 years now, I arrived when I was 10 years old. But because of being in a boarding school for 4-5 years, I would say I was pretty grown up and the transition was easier for me at times than my brothers. Boarding school was survival of the fittest especially as it was run by Irish Nuns. They used to shave our hair off. We had to come at the beginning of school with our hair shaved off and during the term, they would also give us a trim. When I first started primary school in Mitcham my first lesson was P.E and there I was, this bald-headed girl walking into the girls changing room looking like a boy and all the girls screaming for me to get out. That was quite a traumatic experience which made feel a bit outcast.

In terms of education, my English was perfect and actually, the level of work the kids were doing in Year 6 at the age of 10/11 in core subjects of English, Maths and Science, I had actually done when I was 7 years old in Uganda. So the kids didn't really like me that much because I was “too clever” apparently.

Being a refugee, we arrived on my mother’s passport but didn't have our own passports until 5 years later. My mother’s passport was confiscated by the Home Office and as we didn’t have our own, it meant that I couldn’t go on any school trips or travel abroad. So my whole class would go every year in secondary school but I stayed behind at school, photocopying papers for the teacher or sitting in the classroom by myself.

I was bullied a lot at school but surprisingly had 100% attendance. The effects of the move really affected my mum; she had given up her job, her lifestyle (with maids and a personal chauffeur, her house, her family and her marriage) and was finding it hard to get work here). She tried to commit suicide by jumping off Vauxhall bridge and we ended up in care for nearly a year. And this was really difficult for my brothers and me as I had to be strong for them. So getting bullied at the same time wasn't very helpful.

I had a strong African accent, my hair had grown back thankfully, but I remember this boy who used to bully me for being a refugee, for being African, for being too clever, for my accent, for what had happened to my mum and in the week we went into care, he just said the wrong thing about my accent. I got up and screamed and told him to stop but he wouldn’t…. so I threw a table at him. He got suspended and I got tea and biscuits in the staff room (2 years later I was tutoring him with his English and Maths, so we were friends in the end).

That night, I decided to go silently mute for a whole year. I didn’t speak to anyone, not even my foster parents, my brothers and my mum. I used to listen to BBC News with Moira Stuart and I would put Ceefax 888 subtitles on and I would listen to her and her voice, intonation and copy her. A year later I started speaking like this, in a very British accent. From then onwards I didn't feel like a refugee or an outcast.

After secondary school, I was accepted to study Arts and Theatre at The BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology and then onto Central School of Speech and Drama. I’ve worked in Lambeth Council since 2005, where I have worked in teams and led on projects that positively affect children, young people and their parents. I also work on an arts culture and current affairs podcast called Stance and I have learnt so much from my colleagues there. Finally, I am a mother to the most beautiful, talented, happiest and kindest little boy and I’m proud of that.

I still want to do so much more and I have a passion for the arts and creativity and using that as a drive to support children and young people to achieve and succeed as well as having more of a diverse presence in the arts.

I went back to Uganda for the first time in 2017 when my mum passed away and I felt so disconnected to it and many of my friends don’t approve that I haven't been back - but I will be taking my son back there in the next couple of years. There have been times when those feelings resurface and I expect they won’t ever go away. I just remember to be strong and everything I have gone through (especially those Catholic Irish Nuns); I am still here. London is my home.

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