Zeinab’s story: From feeling alone to connecting with the community

Initially an isolated asylum seeker without a connection, Zeinab is now a connected volunteer at Learn for Life, her confidence and independence restored.

First arriving in the UK…

Zeinab is an asylum seeker who arrived in the UK in June 2023. Arriving into a new country without any belongings, her first priority was safety. But lacking access to data connectivity and a device meant that, while now safe, she was still completely isolated and unable to stay in contact with loved ones left behind. She was unable to talk to her husband and her family for a while after arriving in the UK due to not having an internet connection.

Being new to an entirely foreign country and feeling alone made it difficult for Zeinab to engage with a new community and begin her new life. Her confidence and sense of independence had dwindled. She needed to rely on other people to help her and show her the way to places, as without access to data, she did not have access to directions at her fingertips. Due to being an asylum seeker and not yet having British citizenship, she was also unable to look for a job to help her save money for a device and internet, which felt like “a waste of time, waste of age, and a waste of motivation.”

Zeinab with her new device and confidence

Seeking help: a transformation with free data and a device

Recognising this frustration and alienation, she sought support within the community of Sheffield, finding Learn For Life Enterprise, a community organisation that is a part of the National Digital Inclusion Network, providing support for vulnerable members of the community, like local residents, refugees, asylum seekers, BAME communities and older people. Zeinab attended support sessions at Learn For Life, seeking to gain digital connectivity and build a sense of community. 

While building her skills and confidence, Zeinab was provided with a free SIM card from the National Databank, and a free laptop from the National Device Bank.

“I started crying. It was such a big thing for me, as before it [SIM card], I couldn’t speak to my husband for a time, or speak to my family. And with the laptop, I got free data which I was able to renew. So I am really very grateful for all of this. Now, I feel more free.”

Thanks to the free data and device, Zeinab has been able to gain her independence by finding online resources herself, staying up-to-date with the world around her through the news, and finding her way around Sheffield by checking directions online. Her confidence and independence built as a result of this digital support has enabled her to feel more assimilated within the UK, while combating her loneliness as she can now stay in touch with her loved ones.

“Nowadays you cannot live without data. The internet takes up a very large space in our lives. With it, we can communicate with our family or friends, especially when we live abroad away from our family. We can communicate with them, and sometimes we can feel just like we’re actually with them. So it’s really helpful for us to get online and get digital skills.” 

Providing help: volunteering to help others get connected

As she’s still waiting for her citizenship process to complete, Zeinab is now volunteering at Learn For Life, to give back to the community. She feels like she has gained her independence and confidence at Learn For Life, which she feels is her “second home” in a “very friendly community.” She feels much more comfortable in the UK, is able to make new friends here, while keeping in touch with friends and family abroad, and wants to help others in her local community feel the transformation she felt.

“Volunteering is really good for me. Because there’s no salary, you have to do something you like. Using the support I’ve been given here, I now am able to give back and enjoy doing that. I see the people who get data become very grateful and emotional because they don’t see how it’s possible. I was like that. My goal is to help other people the way Learn for Life helped me.”


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