From Egypt to London – Xavier’s journey is so much more than geographical

  • Xavier was uprooted, suddenly, during primary school, and moved from Egypt to London without saying goodbye to friends and family
  • He struggled with the transition, feeling isolated and out of place in his new adopted home, losing confidence and the ability to make friends easily
  • Half way through his West London Zone programme, Xavier is already coming on leaps and bounds, engaging in school, joining in with activities, and making friends

Xavier moved to London from Egypt during the later years of his primary school, unaware that this would be a permanent move. As a result, he did not say goodbye to friends and family, which had a huge impact on his ability to settle in his new home. Xavier also had English as an additional language, which only added to the emotional challenges he faced. 

As Xavier started secondary school, it was clear that these challenges would only continue.

Addressing the challenges faced by young people in good time

West London Zone identifies children and young people who don’t yet require high-needs support, but who have a range of risk factors that could lead to more serious intervention later. Teacher and parental insights are combined with survey data via a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, a wellbeing measurement tool which helps to identify children struggling with their social and emotional wellbeing.

Xavier joined the West London Zone programme in Year 7, having been identified ‘at risk’ in English and reading, emotional problems, peer relationships, confidence, and school engagement. At the heart of these challenges, however, would be the circumstances that he found himself in; uprooted to a different country, his confidence had been damaged, he lacked positive peer relationships, and he was worried that he looked different to his classmates. He felt that no one wanted to play with him, no one shared his hobbies and interests, and was struggling with the feeling of not being liked. An intervention was needed before this all escalated.

Xavier’s Link Worker gets to work

Kamal was to be Xavier’s Link Worker over the next two years of the programme. He would be a mentor, a champion of Xavier in the classroom and beyond, and create a bespoke programme which drew together other organisations to afford a fully rounded system of support. There is no ‘parachuting’ in, on the West London Zone programme – Kamal would be alongside Xavier throughout.

Xavier was excited to be on the West London Zone programme, and to be linked with Kamal – he wanted to have someone at school to talk to that was not a teacher. His mother was grateful that her child had this additional support too, as she knew he had not moved on emotionally from Egypt. She was really keen on all the tools and resources available,  such as counselling for their child.

Kamal’s first objective was to improve Xavier’s confidence, knowing he had to give him the tools to develop emotionally and socially. Xavier’s language barrier also meant that he was often in thrall to the opinions of others, which was negatively impacting his own experiences. He felt like he needed to try to be everyone’s friend, which was inadvertently hindering his friendship-making skills. 

Finding acceptance through art 

Kamal began introducing Xavier to a range of support sessions, each designed to target a certain goal that he could work towards. These support sessions are coordinated alongside West London Zone Delivery Partners, local charities that give young people access to opportunities they might not otherwise have.

One of the first of these was Element, which uses arts based activities to support goal setting and developing aspirations. This was ideal for Xavier to begin his journey, learning how to work within a group and how to listen to his own voice rather than those of others. He engaged in conversations about success, failure, dreams, and needs, manifesting those ideas with his peers through a piece of art – for him, it was a self-made album cover around the theme of friendship. 

Xavier had a space to be happy, to be creative, and to be listened to through his art. A lot of the creations he made at the beginning of the workshops were all about Egypt, but Kamal noticed that as he progressed he started to open up to other ideas. With Kamal’s insight, and the facilitator’s encouragement, Xavier has started doing more and more work that touched on his hobbies and interests and life in the UK.

Dungeons and Dragons  – using roleplay to build skills 

Once a week Xavier joined a group of students to play Dungeons and Dragons, a support session created and delivered by Kamal himself. Its aim is to encourage students to engage in their goals in an innovative way; for example teamwork-building skills can be developed by leading their fellow players through a jungle, or by holding the rope for other characters to scale down a rocky hillside. The game has three core pillars; role playing, exploration and combat. Each pillar allows the players to explore a dynamic world, filled with diverse cultures, people, locations and monsters of all varieties.

This kind of support was vital for Xavier, as it touches on so many aspects of his development journey. He has learned problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills; how to handle success as well as failure; and it gave him an opportunity to be part of shared experiences, creating impactful moments that allowed friendships to grow by the session. Xavier soon started to come to sessions after school on Fridays – Dungeons and Dragons was clearly having a lasting impact.


Dungeons and Dragons encourage students to engage in their goals in an innovative way

Engaged, confident, and active in the school community – Xavier has come a long way

Xavier is half way through his two-year programme, but is already progressing against the key markers of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. He is now less ‘at risk’ in peer relationships, as he has developed healthy friendships with whom he interacts throughout the day; he is learning that he doesn’t need to be everyone’s friend; and he has also started to work well with others, listening to opinions and thoughts without feeling like he is involved in a disagreement or a personal attack. Xavier used to spend a lot of time in the library as a way to isolate himself, but he is now much more confident, spending breaks and lunch times outside, playing with others, even playing football when previously he hadn’t felt particularly good at it.

Interestingly, at the end of this first year, Xavier requested to cancel his counselling sessions. This was despite Kamal and the counsellor feeling the need for it to continue, having seen the valuable impact it had already had. However, even this withdrawal from a support session still implied success. Not only did Xavier have the confidence to make a decision for himself, he also felt heard by Kamal, his Link Worker and a trusted adult, which strengthened the relationship further. 

Xavier is now well on the way to actively making a life for himself at school. He has accepted that his family is no longer returning to Egypt, is putting down roots, and choosing to engage rather than isolate. Indeed, Xavier has been involved with every single drama production the school has run – miles away from hiding in the library each day as before. 

By actively choosing to be part of his school community in such a demanding and active way it has given Xavier opportunities to be seen, heard and wanted by others around them – and the rest of his West London Zone journey will continue building on this.

*Name changed and image unrelated

together, every child and young person can flourish.