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EAL Role Models on International Women’s Day

We know that our EAL pupils are capable of incredible success, and it is important that we help them to develop self-belief and give them the support and tools they need. For International Women’s Day 2020, let’s celebrate international women who are EAL role models for girls across the UK.

Nadifa Mohamed

Nadifa Mohamed was born in 1981 in Somaliland. She came to the UK aged 5 for a temporary visit but the outbreak of civil war prevented her return. In a piece in Granta in 2012, Mohamed writes of the anxiety she experienced when she moved to London and the unhappiness she felt going to the ‘prison-like school house’. She explains the slow process of learning English and the identity crisis she experienced as she adapted to life in London. These experiences did not hold her back, as she attended the University of Oxford and is now a successful novelist. She was also selected as one of Granta magazine’s ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ in 2013.

Rita Ora

Rita Ora was born in Pristina, Kosovo to Albanian parents. She moved to London at the age of one with her family to escape the political conflict there. Rita Ora speaks Albanian with her family and has given interviews in Albanian. She even had an Albanian-speaking role in a film she appeared in aged 13. Rita has stated that she is proud to be from Kosovo, and travelled there as a UN ambassador in 2019, when she also performed at the Kosovo 10 Year Independence Day show. Rita has had numerous hit singles and collaborations with artists including Avicii, Tinie Tempah and Iggy Azalea. She has also been an X Factor judge and worked with brands such as Adidas and Rimmel.


The next one of our EAL role models is the rapper M.I.A. Maya Arulpragasam was 11 when she moved to London to escape conflict in her home country, Sri Lanka. Like many EAL children, she came via another country before arriving in the UK, settling briefly in India. Her family were housed as refugees, and she started school in Year 6 where she learned English. She liked the Sri Lankan aspect of herself, but has stated that it took her ages to come to terms with it, as she had to learn to be an immigrant and a refugee in a new country.

M.I.A. has said that with her music she wanted to make every refugee kid that came over after her have something to feel good about. She is now one of the most prominent Tamil celebrities outside Sri Lanka, with musical and artistic success in the UK and USA. Arulpragasam has faced criticism over her career for voicing her political views, and even been accused of being a terrorist for speaking out about genocide in Sri Lanka. This has not stopped her from continuing to communicate her views to the world.

Alek Wek

One of our EAL role models is Alek Wek. Alek Wek was born in South Sudan and fled civil war in 1991, aged 14. She arrived in London and started school, only able to speak her home language Dinka and Arabic. Alek has explained that it was difficult, but that after her previous experiences, she felt free and so happy to be learning. She was assigned a special needs teacher (EAL teachers would not have been common then!) and soon became fluent in English. Alek enjoyed school and says, ‘I could never understand why other kids wanted to truant – my education here gave me everything’.

At the age of 18, Alek was spotted by a model scout in Crystal Palace market. She has gone on to be an incredibly successful black model and an inspiration to others. Alek Wek is now Advisor to the U.S. Committee for Refugees Advisory Council, raising awareness about the situation in Sudan and the plight of refugees worldwide.

Meltem Avcil

When she was 7, Meltem Avcil fled the persecution of Kurdish people in Turkey. She and her mother originally moved to Germany, but continued to the UK after the refusal of their claim for asylum there. For six years Meltem moved around the UK with her mother, staying in temporary accommodation while their claim was processed. She attended British schools where she became fluent in English. At 13, she was a happy schoolgirl in Doncaster when immigration officers woke her up at the crack of dawn. They took her and her mother to Yarl’s Wood detention centre and held them there for three months whilst the Home Office tried to deport them. Eventually, the Children’s Commissioner prevented the deportation and Meltem was granted indefinite leave to remain.

Meltem has since spoken out about the abuse of women and children she witnessed whilst in Yarl’s Wood. Like many EAL students, Meltem Avcil has demonstrated great resilience after a difficult experience. On her return to school, reports said she was an excellent student, and she now studies Mechanical Engineering at Goldsmiths University. In 2015, Cosmopolitan magazine include Meltem in their Ultimate Women list. Meltem continues to campaign for the closure of Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

Who are your EAL role models? We’d love to get the conversation going over on our Twitter page @FlashAcademy_Hq!

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