Education: Student Lodmilla fled the bombs in Syria and thanks Sheffield for giving her a chance

Every morning, Lodmilla Khalil takes a moment to remind herself she’s not dreaming. She listens and is delighted to hear nothing.

Thursday, 19th May 2022, 12:05 am
Updated Monday, 30th May 2022, 12:50 pm

This silence is golden because it means she’s safe. No longer is her backdrop the war-torn landscape of Syria where the endless bombing became a soundtrack she was desparate to end.

The 23-year-old now lives in Middlewood with her family and thanks to the education she has received in Sheffield alongside her drive and determination, Lodmilla has hope.

Being brought up in Syria, hope was a lot to ask for. The ongoing multi-sided civil war fought between the Syrian Arab Republic and various domestic and foreign forces seems never ending.

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The launch of the Pennine 5 building where 3,000 adult learners are taught.

The sound of exploding bombs was her teenage life and the danger they posed meant her family dare not send her to school.

They had to keep moving and eventually it became too much. Lodmilla’s dad applied to move to the UK and the family were given a home in a city of sanctuary, Sheffield.

Lodmilla, the eldest of three children, had no English. Now she has a distinction in Applied Science and is studying pharmacy.

She’s a remarkable success story, aided by Sheffield College and inspired by a desire to help others. Her triple D star in Applied Science is the highest score you can get in a vocational qualification.

The view from Pennine 5, a building in the city centre, where around 3,000 adult learners are being taught.

It could have been so different. “I came from a country where there was a war, it wasn’t safe, my parents didn’t want to send me to school so for seven years I didn’t go,” she says.

“They just wanted me to be safe which meant I couldn’t be in contact with any education because it wasn’t safe.

“It was seven bad years, we searched for a better life, a fresh start and my dad decided we should try and get to the UK.

“I was 19, had no English and we got to Sheffield. It couldn’t have worked out better.

Lodmilla Khalil is pictured on the seventh floor balcony of Sheffield College's City Campus. She is now studying pharmacy after arriving in Sheffield with no English.

“When I got here I thought it was really nice, the people were lovely, really friendly, they try to help and they make me smile.

“I sometimes go to other cities and I miss Sheffield straight away because when you walk down the street here people smile back at you.

“It is not the same in other places, Sheffield is really friendly.

“I’ve always met lovely and supportive people, I guess wherever you go there’s good and bad but I’ve never met any kind of hostility. People have always been lovely, supportive and welcoming.

Lodmilla Khalil is studying pharmacy after arriving in Sheffield with no English.

“They make me love Sheffield even more.”

The contrast to her homeland could not be more stark. “The constant bombing. People dying,” she says. It is stark and something she can’t forget.

“The problem is the bombing is random. It is not just where ISIS was, our family had to move around, we never had a stable home.

“When I came here I thought life would be wonderful straight away because I could sleep in peace.

“When I wake up I always have five minutes looking around me and think I’m safe, I’m not going to die. I can drink clean water.”

Things we take for granted but worth remembering how fortunate we are.

Left to right are students Ali Rezaei and Walid Elmatmati

Determined to fill her education gap, Lodmilla applied to Sheffield College to do an ESOL - English Speakers of Other Languages course.

The college has moved some of its adult courses including maths, digital and particularly ESOL learners aged 19-plus to Pennine 5, a building on Tenter Street in the city centre.

The college rents two floors and around 3,000 adult learners are being taught - they moved in during September 2021.

Students originate from up to 30 countries including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Pennine 5 was officially opened last month and the guests included Clive Betts, Sheffield South East MP, and Martin McKervey, the High Sheriff of South Yorkshire.

Having mastered the language, Lodmila moved onto a BTec in applied science, initially thinking of dentistry before opting for pharmacy. She achieved top grades in her vocational course, completing a BTEC Extended Diploma in Applied Science at Level 3.

She achieved three distinction stars - D*, D*, D* - which is equivalent to three A Levels. She was shortlisted in the Association of Colleges’ Student of the Year Awards 2021/22.

Her message to others is clear. “You can get to university with a BTec.

“Think positively. Everything is hard at the beginning, but you need to be disciplined and at the end everything becomes better.

“I always try my best, I’m always motivated because I know there are lots of people with dreams to be in my life.

“Give it a try, every person is capable, but if you don’t put the effort in you don’t succeed.”

She’s in her first year of five at the University of Huddersfield and wants to work for the NHS. “It means a lot to me. In Syria at the age of 12 I saw people suffer from disease and wounds and they couldn’t find a doctor.

“So even if you didn’t die in a bomb blast, if you were injured there was no help. People got to the point where they could treat basic injuries, but they needed help.

“That’s why it’s important to me to be part of the NHS because they deliver help and if I can help this is what I want because I want to feel like I’ve done something.

“The violence I went through, my mental health suffered, and I want to do something now so I can help people. It makes me happy.”

And students like Lodmilla make the college happy. Angela Foulkes, Chief Executive and Principal of Sheffield College, said: “We are delighted to open our adult learning centre.

“Pennine 5 offers modern teaching facilities to enhance students’ learning experience so they progress, fulfil their aspirations and go further in education and their careers.

“I am really proud of our staff and the achievements of our adult learners, who are truly humbling and inspirational given the challenges that some have faced.”

Lodmilla is one of many success stories. Student Walid Elmatmati, 47, is completing an ESOL course at Pennine 5.

Walid originates from Libya and moved to the UK four years ago. He spent some time in Newcastle studying and working as a volunteer translator for the fire service and a local charity before moving to Sheffield.

He said: “I left Libya because of the civil war. I used to work for a human rights organisation and I also ran a food export and import business. It became too dangerous for me and my family to stay.

“People were being thrown in prison without reason. I was threatened with being kidnapped and someone shot at my car. I escaped with my wife and child. We lost everything – a house, car, job but I had to get out to save my family. You can’t put a price on security.

“I am really enjoying the college. I have met lots of different people from many different countries. We have been sharing our stories and cultures and it gives me hope and inspires me to succeed.”

Student Ali Rezaei, 40, is also completing an ESOL course and is from Iran. A tailor, he was forced to leave the country due to changing his religion.

He said: "My wife was pregnant when I left Iran but, unfortunately, I have never seen my child.” Ali left Iran in 2014 and lived in Germany and France before moving to England in February 2021.

"After six months, I went to the College and started classes. I am very happy to be able to spend my time in college. I hope that after completing the course I will be able to integrate into the community and be useful for this country.”

Admirable and no wonder they win the praise of those involved in the project. Jeremy Hughes, Director of RBH Properties, which owns Pennine 5, added: “We are proud of the environment and facilities that we offer and delighted to be working with such a well-regarded organisation that is providing vital education and skills to communities in the city.”

Martin McKervey, the High Sheriff of South Yorkshire, said: “Moving to a new country presents a lot of challenges not least in terms of the language barrier. ESOL provision is an important part of our approach to education and skills; it creates opportunities and empowers learners to be the best they can.

“It also demonstrates how caring Sheffield is as a city. Not only do we welcome people but we want to help them develop their use of the English language. The Sheffield College is to be applauded for this important and outstanding work. ESOL says something very positive about the College and our great city.”

More than 13,500 students and apprentices studied with Sheffield College during 2020/21.

Of those learners, around 2,501 were apprentices.

The college works with around 2,741 employers and its economic impact regionally is approximately £282.5 million.

For more information visit www.sheffcol.ac.uk or call 0114 2602600. The college is on Facebook Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter.

Staff at the launch of the Pennine 5 building in Sheffield city centre.