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Photo of Walid in Tycoch Atrium, taken by Learning and Work Institute

Gower College Swansea ESOL learner wins Inspire! Adult Learning Award

Walid Musa Albuqai, an ESOL learner at Gower College Swansea, won this year’s Different Past: Shared Futures award at the Inspire! Adult Learning Awards, an annual ceremony coordinated by Learning and Work Institute in partnership with the Welsh Government and other partners. The awards celebrate the achievements of exceptional individuals, community projects and organisations in Wales, who have shown outstanding passion, commitment and drive to improve themselves, their community or workplace through learning. 

Walid Musa Albuqai grew up in Syria but was forced to flee the country with his wife and three daughters ten years ago because of the war. He’d worked on a farm during his early years and later as a warehouse manager and factory worker but struggled to find a permanent role due to the ongoing conflict.

Walid said: “Because of the situation in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the United Nations gave families like mine the option to move to the UK. Not everyone moved, but my family and I decided it was the right thing to do. We were told we’d be moving to Swansea, and I was excited because I had never been to Wales before. I love it here because of the people and the beautiful beaches. It’s a very friendly city and I’ve been able to find work which I’m very grateful for.”

When he first arrived in Swansea, Walid spoke very little English. He struggled with basic grammar and sentence structure so, with the support of Swansea Council, he started studying Entry Level 1 English as a Second Language (ESOL) at Gower College Swansea.

“When I first moved to the UK my English was very basic. My support workers at EYST (Ethnic Youth Support Team) helped a lot, and I volunteered at a charity shop to practice my English and start making friends with people in the local community” he said.

By attending classes regularly, studying outside of class and taking opportunities to practice speaking English, Walid was able to develop his language skills. He also took advantage of online resources including grammar lessons and apps to continue learning outside of his classes.

“My daughters are thirteen, nine and six. They go to English-language schools and have also helped me to improve my English. They, along with my wife, inspire me every day and have encouraged me to turn my dreams into a reality.”

Walid has now completed ESOL Levels 1 and 2 and he applied for a number of jobs including a bus driver role with FirstBus. His passion for driving and language skills shone through during the interview, and he got the job.

“I absolutely love working as a bus driver. Practically, the exam wasn’t too difficult, but the theory test was hard. I wouldn’t have been able to do the interview without my English skills. I owe my career to those classes.”

Walid is now looking ahead to the future and hoping to complete ESOL Level 3 before re-training as a driving instructor. He says, “I would like to encourage others to return to learning and pursue their goals, no matter how challenging it may seem. My advice is to work hard and never give up. Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. I am excited to see where my journey takes me as I continue to make my way towards my goals and making a difference in my community.”