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Grmalem, a 25-year-old from Eritrea, recounts his harrowing journey of escape from compulsory military service and economic hardship. Leaving his homeland at 14, he embarked on a perilous five-month odyssey through Ethiopia, Sudan, Libya, Italy, France, and finally to the UK. Facing inhumane conditions from smugglers in the Sahara to a treacherous sea voyage, Grmalem eventually found refuge in the UK, where he lived in foster care, discovering his passion for art and education. Despite ongoing challenges and discrimination, Grmalem dedicates himself to supporting others and raising awareness about the refugee experience, hoping for a future where empathy and humanity prevail.

Refugee Stories: Grmalem

Grmalem: My name is Grmalem. I'm 25. I'm from Eritrea. The reason I had to leave Eritrea is mainly politically economic and education. I was turning about 14, and I knew I'm gonna have to face this same story as my uncles, my dad and my sisters and all the village who has to join the military army. My dad did not have any income or salary from the government, and his whole life was serving the government. And that was not something I was planning to do for my future. And the only thing was like to run and escape the country. So this many reasons is that I have to live and change my family's future and change my future. One day I just said I'm leaving. I don't told anybody I can't because it's risky. I had to leave at night with one friend and we don't even know where we go. We don't have any torch. We don't have any lights, you know. I wasn't scared, I wasn't I wasn't scared. I was like, no, let's do it, let's, let's. It's because it's more scared. What I left is, uh. I prefer to die. My story. My journey takes five months. Stepping in my journey from Eritrea to Ethiopia, from Ethiopia to Sudan, from Sudan to Libya, from Libya to Italy, from Italy to France, from France to here. Every step I take was really, really hard and difficult. In the Sahara Desert, there were smugglers. They were kept us like really unhuman, holding guns like they ready for a war, feeding us as an animal as well. So all our life was theirs. We only give them the breath and they, they, they control the body.


I don't know how many days and nights were spent on the sea, but we spent more than a week. And the sea doesn't motivate you to survive. The sea never ever motivated. Really hard memories I have is people shouting from underground of the boat, vomiting as well, like people. So much vomiting. And just because so many, all the dead seaweed and fish and everything is so disgusting. I saw people come in to us in very small boat. They moved us to a bigger ship. Very, very, very, very, very big. It's like towns. It's bigger than any town I ever seen. Now. In Calais. There was a camp and people were there like for two and a half years and three years trying to go to England. We tried days and nights. I tried in every way of the lorry. I tried in everywhere of the car and we get fined every time we get tried everywhere. We fined by police. Police dog, uh, by scanned and oh, in Calais, the worst thing was the spray they spray in your eyes. And it was more than a gun surely. It was really hurt. This is where the point, I said. You call me illegal? I am legal because there is no legal rights. So I have to figure out my own legal because there were no other options, that is. But a day came. The minute came. The hours came. My I was scared. A lorry was stopped next to where I was lying in the grass. I was like, okay, let's try in this place again.


So I have to climb to the top of the lorry. I climbed there and tied myself really tiny and get to the UK. Junction 11, Folkestone to Ashford. He parked there. That 14 years I've been living not existed. Sorry. My best days start counting from the day of landing in the UK. I feel safe. I said. This is it. And later on. The police find me. I don't know where. And they took me to the police station and they took me to there. I think now it's called a transfer scheme. They took me to put me in the system like a refugee system. I lived in foster care for seven years with my foster carer. My super, super, super hero. And they foster in me how to be human. And they taught me that everything. What is I have now and who I am going to be. My foster carer, we couldn't communicate it. She came really wisely, said, can you please start telling me story how you came. And she gave me a pencil and a paper. And then I start drawing. Instead of writing. My first drawing was the boat, our boat and the small boat. They came in to risk us. It was that and she was like, wow, I saw that in the TV. She was saying, he came this way. And that's our first conversation with my foster mum. And since then she started buying me a canvas. Precious. All these stores, all the stores fill up. And I say to myself, I'm. I'm gonna be sure I make her proud to finish university and get graduated in art. And which is, I'm in my third year to graduate this year. So I love them and I see the love they gave me. And they are my parents and I call them mum and dad. The word refugee mean to me. It feels like illegal. It feels like. Not human.


It feels like separation. I do feel discrimination when people call me illegal refugee, come illegal asylum. I mean, when people called. You here and we can't find council house and they thinking we are taking their houses. That is when I feel really discrimination and it just doesn't make sense. It doesn't make me anything but me. Trying to help, trying to work, trying to do my best I can with supporting my family, with supporting others next to me. I wish and hope I can help people. I've been doing two years supplying teacher, helping the next generations to support in school, and I'm also working as a youth ambassador at KRAN. I joined KRAN to help young people, which I love to help people. When I am around people and we raise awareness of the young people, we go to school, talk about us, our journey, talk about our experience and expectation. I'm not leaving people who stop leaving their countries. Or maybe a war is going to stop forever, so people will live and I will support. And that is my hope. That's my wish to support, to be a human, to have empathy, to work hard until the day I die.


Refugee Stories: Grmalem

Video length - 09.52
Published date - Jun 2024
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4

Bryony shares her heartbreaking but hopeful story about living with cerebral palsy, PTSD and anxiety – and describes how people don’t always notice or understand these ‘hidden disabilities’. Mixing animation and live action, this beautifully shot and emotional film seeks to raise awareness not just of certain medical conditions; but of the impact of bullying and how it can push a person to feeling suicidal.





Hidden Disabilities

Hello, my name is Bryony. I'm 24. I live with my mum, dad and sister and all our animals. I am an actress, blogger and model. I'm passionate about raising awareness about disability, especially hidden disability. It came about because I was having a hard time and I needed a place to just write and vent. So I started my blog. I was in year two when my family started to take me to the doctors. This was because my teacher could see I was slightly behind my peers, so I would find balance very hard, PE, I couldn't concentrate. My walking wasn't the best. I trip a lot and she just sort of noticed I couldn't really keep up in class. So she spoke to my mum and we went to the doctor and then that's when I started having tests. When I was at school to begin with, I had quite a few friends, but then that kind of changed when people noticed that I was not coming into school as much because I was at a hospital appointment and they weren't really sure why. I think when I started telling my friends that I was disabled, they kind of saw me in a different way and didn't really know how to relate to me anymore. It was like I was a different person, but to me I was just the same. Then that's when people started picking up on things that they hadn't before. I hate to use the word normal, but I think they don't think I was normal.


When I found out I had cerebral palsy I didn't really understand what it was, but my mum and dad were very open about it. For me, it affects my right side of my body and it's scattered all over my brain. So I find reading and writing - I found writing very hard and doing puzzles. I had a splint which was like a leg brace that I'd wear on my right leg. I couldn't wear a skirt at school, had to wear trousers because I'd have to cover it because people would see it and make fun of me. This led to bullying from the age of year 2 to 16 years old. I got bullied verbally, physically and online. I kind of closed off to the world. I didn't feel like I belonged. My disability became more hidden, but I then had the diagnosis of PTSD, anxiety and depression. PTSD is when you've had an event happen in your life and it's affected you, and for some reason, you just can't stop thinking about it, but you're not even thinking about it. You just do it without even knowing. And it can be anything to everyone and it comes out in different ways. I covered it a lot with a smile, but like I say to people, just because you're smiling doesn't mean there's nothing wrong, like a smile can hide a lot and it kind of built up and built up and built up and people couldn't see that. I was just trying to cope with the basic stuff. Even just getting up in the morning. When I'm out and about and I'm not in my wheelchair, people walk past me and treat me completely differently. But it always makes me laugh because you could be walking past someone with a disability and you might not even know. When you see me walking, it might look simple, but inside my head everything's rushing and I get confused and tired and I just kind of learnt to just try and look as normal as I possibly can. I'd get bullied every single day and I'd come home really, really upset and crying.


Around the age of 14, when I was getting diagnosed with my mental health conditions, I was also diagnosed with visual and auditory hallucinations. And I couldn't... I couldn't see the world. It was like I was trapped in darkness. And I still have voices now. My voices would say nasty things that weren't very nice like they still do. But I didn't have coping strategies then. I felt very lost, very alone. I thought people would be better off if I wasn't here. I started to not be able to look at myself in mirrors. I kind of switched myself off to the world and that's when everything kind of just went a bit dark. Everything got a bit confusing in my head and I couldn't... I couldn't escape my own mind. I couldn't tell what was real, what wasn't real. Um... I felt very alone. I tried to take my own life um.... And.... That was really difficult because I was scared people would just say, 'you're doing it for attention' or things like that. But I couldn't think of... a way out. If I could talk to one of the bullies today, I'd... I'd be very anxious, but I'd probably say that even though for you, it was just like a little quick comment or just like a little bit of fun at school because nothing else to do it. It affected the way I saw myself and I didn't think I was worthy of... yeah. I thought that people would be better off without me. So it really like, it became my world rather than the real world for other people. It just became dark and I couldn't get out the darkness.

I spent a bit of time in a mental health hospital. They taught me techniques of how to cope with everyday situations if they got a bit too much. I also got help from CAMHs, which is a child's mental health service, and I'm now with adult mental health and they've been amazing and the support I received with them was brilliant. I have a support worker with me six days a week. I'm very lucky to have her. Her name is Ella. She helped me to try and be as independent as possible and to not rely on my mum all the time. When I'm out and about with Ella, she will link arms with me for when we're crossing the road because of my balance also because of my timing, I'm not really good at judging when it's safe to go. Also because I can have seizures. A seizure is when there's too much electrical energy in your brain and it goes too quickly so you can't have control of yourself. I explain this to little kids, as in you've got little jellybeans in your head, and then sometimes the jellybeans get so excited and they party in your brain and you just have a seizure and you begin to shake. My seizures can be brought on by stress, anxiety, the unknown. Maybe if I'm overthinking or even when I get really excited, they can happen for all different types of reasons.


I have a blue badge and this will help me with car parking so I don't have to walk as far to a shop. I also have a sunflower lanyard, which is a blue or green lanyard with sunflowers on it. This is what I wear when I'm out and about. This lanyard explains to other people that I have additional needs and I might be slower or I might need more help or just to be a bit more patient with me and things like that. Just making people aware that you might just need a little bit of extra help. Like with all my hidden disabilities, I like to find new things to do to help me express myself. And photography is one of them. I really like taking pictures of nature and wildlife and it helped me to be in the moment and just appreciate small little things in the here and now. Another one of my passions is acting. When I have an audition or a job, I will mark up my script in a particular way. This is because of my dyslexia and sometimes it feels like the words on the page can be jumbled. They can sometimes look like they're spinning or blurred, but because of the strategies I use, I always feel a sense of achievement afterwards because I always get there in the end. Despite my conditions and my disabilities, I want to try and be as positive as I can. I believe that my disability is part of me, but it doesn't define me. I made some amazing friends and it was a really nice way to connect and feel that you're not alone because you get told a lot that you're not alone and you think, 'yeah, everyone says that'. But, if you reach out, a lot of people you'll find will feel similar to you or understand what you're going through. So don't be scared to tell people because people would rather you told them and you were here than you didn't tell them and you're not here. I like to say to myself, just be you. Be true. There's no one else like you, and that is your superpower. Your story can change the world. Don't be afraid to be you and don't feel embarrassed to be you. We're all different. And that's what makes the world go round.


Hidden Disabilities

Video length - 10.40
Published date - Oct 2023
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4
Downloadable resources

The Humanists UK organisation helped us get access to a very special woman, Cathy, who agreed to be filmed for an interview about her life and her impending death due to a terminal illness. Cathy is a big character who had a lot to say, as she planned for her own funeral and discussed why she identified with Humanism. After she passed away, we edited together her interview and funeral to make what is a rare and very touching film that goes beyond teaching non-religious world views: it’s about grief, love and helping others.

A film by Alastair Collinson.

Humanists UK

Component 2: Thematic studies - Religious, philosophical and ethical studies - Students should be aware of different religious perspectives on the issues studied within and / or between religious and non-religious beliefs such as atheism and humanism.

Area of Study 1 - The aims and objectives of this qualification are to enable students to: ● develop their knowledge and understanding of religions and non-religious beliefs, such as atheism and humanism

Component Group 2–Religion, philosophy and ethics in the modern world from a religious perspective - dialogue within and between religions and non-religious beliefs; how those with religious and non-religious beliefs respond to critiques of their beliefs including the study of a range of attitudes towards those with different religious views – inclusivist, exclusivist and pluralist approaches.

PART B - Theme 1: Issues of Life and Death - Learners are expected to make relevant references to scripture and other sources of authority as well as the beliefs of Humanists and Atheists.

2.3 Component 3 (Route A) - The compulsory nature of this component ensures that learners know and understand the fact that the religious traditions of Great Britain whilst being, in the main, Christian are also diverse and include the following religious traditions as well as other religious and non-religious beliefs such as humanism and atheism. This knowledge may be applied throughout the assessment of the specified content.


A Humanist Funeral Transcript

Narrator:  Humanists are people who don't believe that there is a God or life after death, but they do believe that it is possible to live good lives without a religion, telling them how to do it. Cathy was a humanist. Humanists make their decisions based on science, kindness, a concern for all human beings and the belief we only get one life. This combination of attitudes is called humanism. Knowing her life would soon end. Cathy began planning her humanist funeral and agreed to discuss it on camera at her home in Wales.


Catherine:       I'm Catherine Ellen Hawkesbury Weston, now Catherine Simons. I love the name, although I didn't like being a Welsh girl because I couldn't say anything in Welsh and I like to talk. I've been living here now, I would say 61 years. Um. And I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. My mother reckoned she was a good Christian. Um, Methodist. I had to go to Sunday school every week, whether I wanted to or not. And I couldn't have cared less. I really didn't want to be there. I'd like to believe there was something. But I don't think we ever come back. And I don't think I would like to come back, actually. And as long as I'm buried in the garden, I don't care.


Narrator:   Cathy died on May 24th, 2022. Her funeral took place at a chapel a month later. Kathy wanted a humanist funeral, which can look very much like a religious funeral, but there are no prayers and no mention of God or a life after death. It's a celebration of someone's life and the contribution they've made to the world. It's a way for friends and family to say goodbye, and the ceremony can take many forms.


Simon:     Welcome, everybody. We gathered here today to pay tribute to the life of Kathy Ellen Simmons. Along the way with every experience and every action, every reaction. With every single thought and emotion, we develop qualities that make us both memorable and unique. And it is that uniqueness, that separateness from others, which is the source of sorrow in bereavement. So if we searched the whole world over, we won't find another quite like Kathy. Her actions and her beliefs reflected the very best of being human. And from our conversations, I've distilled just a few of her thoughts, and it's in keeping with Kathy's very clearly expressed wishes. Her funeral will not be religious for those I have not met. My name is Simon Dinwiddie. I'm a celebrant with humanists UK, and I had the privilege of meeting Kathy for the first time in 2020. Now, being a very pragmatic woman, she wanted to discuss a plan for her own funeral ceremony. That was the first of several meetings, both in person and by telephone, for I'm sure you can all appreciate. Cathy had quite a tale to share.


Catherine:       I realized that religion wasn't really my thing, I wasn't interested in it, and I thought it was more important to be kind to people and just help them if I could. I wanted to be a nurse or was wanted. I never had a doll that was healthy. It would always say, I went for an interview there. You already said you've passed what you want to go in Army, Navy or Air Force? I didn't know they had them in the Army, in the Navy and the Air Force. So I said, I want to be an Army nurse. I could see the uniform, you know. So he said, well, you're in. You're going in a fortnight. Oh my God, what am I going to do? Um, and the very first day I was wearing my uniform and I thought I was chocolate. Oh, I got a hat on. Right. Um, I went down to Cambridge Military Hospital, and there was a brick parade square in front of us and the cookhouse down there. And here's this six foot three, uh, boy with red hair in uniform, marching up and down. And I said, hey, look at that to my mate. He's nice and nice, and he's got red hair. I'm going to marry him one day. She said, you are off your head. I said, we'll see. We'll see. And three years later I did. I think he was more of a believer than me, but it didn't matter that much. You know, it wasn't his life. He passed away and I can feel his goodness. And I want to. I want to capture that.


Simon:     Cathy loves to sing. His wonderful voice serenaded her with renditions from Mario Lanza. So let us take a few seconds or a few moments while we listen to our Maria.


Catherine:       Listen to him sing. Oh God, it made the world go round, you know it's. It was something special. It was just him and I, and it was just wonderful. I've never felt like that with anybody else. I would love people to play this music at my funeral. It meant so much for me. Um, I was jealous because I couldn't sing, but oh, boy, did I enjoy listening to him singing.


Simon:     So the opportunity to introduce her to two film makers. They've been making various films about various belief systems. And back in October 21st, Cathy very kindly agreed to talk to them on camera about her life and humanism. She was sharing memories from her long and adventurous life, including a career and that amazing bucket list of Spitfires, snakes and driving a blood red Ferrari. Now. Cathy loved the idea of sharing a few select clips from her interview with you today. So we should listen to a little bit more of her story.


Catherine: I think the first time I heard about humanism, I met this lady through another friend and I went to see her, and I think I can't be accurate about this. She was a humanist, but she looked in my eyes and I felt. Hang on. That's a little bit the way I feel. Being a humanist makes me feel good. Worthwhile, useful and kind. I think it made me feel. More sensitive to other people's needs. Not just mine. But other people have feelings. And perhaps you can help them in one way or another. I only wanted boys and I only wanted ginger haired boys for us. And it was really funny, actually, because I started having treatment in London and they were determined to get me pregnant and he failed. Um, and that, I suppose, was one of the biggest disappointments in our lives. But we decided the guide dogs would help a lot of people and the forces, because we've been so happy in the forces. And I'm not kidding you. The fun and games I've had with help for heroes, the guide dog puppies, the children with cancer. I love it, absolutely love it. I got an answer only about six months a year ago. Um, the guy that I used to go to in London said to me, Cath, do you know we know why you couldn't have babies? So I said, go on, tell me then. So he said, it's the pancreas. I take over 100 tablets every day to keep me going. I don't want a load of flowers bought for me. I don't want to a fancy this, that and the other. I don't want a meal afterwards. Good God didn't go and get chips down the road. And I just want my ashes to go where I've spent a lot of hours where I used to love being with Terry. He had a beautiful garden. Honestly, um. And where I had a lot of happy times. And it's just nice to know that we'll be together again. You know, if tomorrow's the day. Tomorrow's the day. Um. I've had a good life. I've done a lot of wonderful things. I've met some amazing people. When you think of the beautiful things, we've got to see the places we can go, the people we can meet. Aren't we lucky? We really are lucky. And I love people and I love being with animals. And it's just. Aren't I the luckiest girl in the world? I think so.


Simon:     I think Kathy's message could be summed up in one sentence. Now we've got one life living to the full and seek joy in every day. Ladies, gentlemen, if you're able. Would you please stand for the last post.


Narrator:  The last post is a bugle or trumpet call that is played at funerals for people with a connection to the military. Ah. After the funeral, Cathy was cremated at the chapel. Her ashes were scattered in her garden beside the ashes of her husband, Terry.


Simon:     Yeah, well, that absolutely was perfect for her. So the main thing about a humanist funeral is that they are as unique as the individual who chooses. They're a unique estate, a family that wants to respect the life and reflect upon the life of the person they've lost. And so there is no formula for a humanist ceremony other than we celebrate the life we recognize. It's a good life.


Catherine:       I really would like to be remembered as somebody sensitive, caring and loving. That's all.


A Humanist Funeral

Video length - 11.02
Published date - Nov 2022
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4

Living Your Best Life (Jesus Heals a Man with Leprosy) – The story of ‘Jesus Heals a Man with Leprosy’ is retold – with a twist.

Benjamin lives in the Galilean village of Capernaum and has leprosy. He is also appearing on the reality TV make-over show called ‘Living Your Best Life’. Benjamin learns from the presenter – Joanna, the Make-Over Queen – that Jesus is due to visit Capernaum the following day. Benjamin duly kneels before Jesus asking to be cured. Later, joined by Joanna once more, Benjamin describes how his life has changed. But what has made the greatest impression on him is the compassion and acceptance of Jesus.

Suitable for teaching KS1 / KS2.

For teachers’ notes, assembly framework and more:https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/school-radio/assemblies-ks1-ks2-jesus-heals-a-man-with-leprosy-living-your-best-life/zgh9g7h

This film is from the the assemblies collection on BBC Teach: https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/school-radio/primary-school-assemblies-collective-worship-ks1-ks2/zmsnm39

As this film is embedded you will not be able to download it.

The TrueTube and CTVC team made this film for BBC Teach, so for more resources go to BBC Teach: https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach

The Bible Stories series was commissioned by BBC Teach and produced by CTVC/TrueTube.

Living Your Best Life (Jesus Heals a Man with Leprosy)

Video length - 5.04
Published date - Oct 2021
Keystage(s) - 1 and 2
Downloadable resources

Story of a Heart – Ever had an annoying friend who just won’t leave you alone? Well in Leon’s case it’s his own heart who is always following him around and nagging him to clean up his lifestyle: “Look Leon, whatever you do to yourself, you do to me…”

Story of a Heart

Video length - 06.46
Published date - Jan 2014
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4
Downloadable resources

Pressure Point

Andy Barton discusses pressures on young sports people to succeed. His commentary is highlighted by a narrative given by Jo Ankier, an athlete who narrowly missed out on the opportunity to represent Britain in Beijing. Jo explains how the pressure she put on herself affected not only her performance but her whole life.

Pressure Point

Video length - 03.31
Published date - Jul 2009
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4
Downloadable resources

Fitter Faster Future

How far can we use science to affect our sporting ability before it over-rides the point of sport all together? Experts discuss the legal and illegal options available to athletes now and in the future.

Fitter Faster Future

Video length - 02.44
Published date - Jan 2009
Keystage(s) - 4
Downloadable resources

Diets Don’t Work – Do They?

Serial dieters and professional dieticians give their views on the efficacy of various diets. Experts argue that losing weight sucessfully requires an all-round healthier approach to day-to-day living.

Diets Don’t Work – Do They?

Video length - 02.39
Published date - Feb 2008
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4
Downloadable resources

Big to Buff

Jonathan, a young adult body-builder, looks back through a difficult childhood tarred by obesity and the challenges it brought; and explains why he suddenly decided he needed to take control of his weight and his life.

Big to Buff

Video length - 02.30
Published date - Feb 2008
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4
Downloadable resources

Who’s To Blame?

Who do members of the public hold responsible for childhood obesity?

Who’s To Blame?

Video length - 02.05
Published date - Feb 2008
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4
Downloadable resources