For four years we have been trying to both build on, and continue to champion, the holistic approach that was so visibly needed during Refugee Youth Service’s first exploratory trip to Athens in 2016. From day one we have tried to develop an approach that values autonomy over dependency, that values the voice of the individual and above all believes in the ability of people to move towards self-reliance. Perhaps this is why winning a 2021 Ockenden International Prize means so much to us.  

As stated on their website, “Ockenden International believes that all refugees and displaced people have a right to live with dignity and to be supported in seeking to achieve self-reliance.” To be recognised, as the judging panel stated, as an “exceptional example of constructive ways to support young people in making self-reliant lives” for a moment gives a new perspective to the struggles of the past four years that have enabled this to happen, and goes a long way in developing new motivations and enthusiasm for the next four. 

Of course, our ability to achieve this holistic approach has relied not only on having strong relationships with specialist service providers, but on being part of a trusted network of organisations all sharing the same ethos; that autonomy should be promoted wherever possible. For this we want to say a huge thank you to all our funders and partners, past and present, for sharing this belief, for being part of this network and for the many beautiful collaborations we have enjoyed over the years. 

Finally, for me as a person with lived experience of the issues that young people are facing, and a shared journey, it has been great to see the value placed on this experience grow over time. We want to thank our funders and the Ockenden Prize judges for acknowledging the need for this kind of leadership in the design and implementation of projects and services. After all, it does not matter where we are from and what we have studied, we have experienced first hand the journey as people forced to leave our home countries, we understand the culture and the needs of our community and only through this are we able to create the best fitting response. 

Mustafa Mohammad
Velos Youth Director