The first day at school can be a mix of excitement and apprehension, but a team of volunteers are helping to make sure it goes smoothly for new arrivals from Afghanistan.
Persian speaker Drewery Dyke is one of the volunteers recruited by Volunteer Centre Hackney to travel with children and their parents on dummy runs to their new schools before their first proper full day after half term.
He said: “A teacher came along with us and was able to show children where their classrooms would be and helped to make them feel welcome. That was really nice.
“It’s really to get them to know what the roads look like and where to get on and off public transport.”
They will also be pointing out how traffic in London might be different from Afghanistan, such as bike lanes and electric scooters.
Dyke said one of the younger children started to walk into the middle of the road and volunteers are helping to make them aware of the busy traffic in the city.
“One of the things I found most poignant was when I spoke to one of their fathers and he told me they had just three days to prepare before coming to the UK,” he said.
“He had known war his whole life from his childhood apart from the time the Taliban was away.”
“I was struck by everyone’s resilience and toughness and ability to get on with it,” he added.
Families also enjoyed seeing some of the new sights of London as they explored the journey to school and the children are looking forward to starting life as pupils in the capital and making new friends.
Hackney Council has pledged to house five families who have sought sanctuary in the UK. It will help with schools and building language skills.
The new residents are also being registered with GPs, getting Covid vaccinations and health care checks.
Last month, the council brought volunteers and other services together to discuss how best to help.
The travel buddies are just one group who are helping children feel at home.
“The trial run will give them a sense of how far away the school might be and how long the journey takes,” said Dyke.
He worked in Afghanistan and spent time in some of the main cities, so he is well placed to explain the differences in transport.
He added: “I am pretty confident that lots of people will get their heads around it quickly.
“The volunteer centre has highlighted things that do not exist in Afghanistan for them to look out for, like bike lanes and that bikes go quickly. We will be pointing out things to be aware of that we take for granted – if you have a mobile phone don’t have it about on a busy street.”
Dyke has already been helping support some of the refugees who arrived in the UK after the Afghan government fell to the Taliban this summer.
He helped the response in Earls Court in West London, where volunteers including a Kensington and Chelsea councillor organised the distribution of clothes and toiletries to Afghans who had to leave their homes with very few possessions.