Struggle and Strife pave the way for Success

Demelza Honeyborne was born in Wales, taken to Liberia, West Africa aged 2 years old and survived a 10-year civil war, physical assault and years out of education to go on to recently graduate with a degree in Psychology. This is her #BBKgrad story.

The early years in Liberia, ongoing conflict and the battle to stay in education:

My mother was from Liberia. She and my Dad had separated, so she took me to her home country when I was just two years old. Liberia’s 10-year civil war started in 1990 when I was 13 years old and my mother died that same year. My father had left when I was about four, and I had no contact with him so I effectively became like an orphan during the war. Schools were closed due to the war for a few years- I can’t remember the length of closure…probably till 1996, but they reopened at points where there were cease fires so I missed a massive portion of my junior and senior schooling.

At 18 years old, I got pregnant with my twins and attempted school again. I would study during the day and work at a nightclub from the evening until 4am and then start all over again with classes at 8am. I did this for a year or so. I later got a day job which meant I had to go to night classes. My children were taken away from me by their dad’s parents when they were one as they deemed me unqualified to be a mother due to my circumstances (having no parents, being unmarried). However, I got them back when they turned five.  This meant I could work, study and stay off the streets.

A chance reunion with her father and return to the UK:

I had sent a letter to my old neighbourhood in Wales (I could only remember the first line of the address) to see if anyone knew where my dad might be. I didn’t think I’d have any luck but in 1999, the British Red Cross found my father and reconnected us, which is a totally miraculous happening on its own, hence I returned to the UK in 2000.

I worked for a year upon arriving to the UK- two jobs, seven days a week- until I saved enough money to bring my children over. A friend of mine, Brenda, had encouraged me to get back to study but I still had the mentality that I couldn’t dream and achieve. But I had a strong faith…I always remember my Mum would drop me off at Church when she was alive then would come back and get me.

Study goals in sight and enrolment at Birkbeck:

Transport for London, which is my employer, offers free courses; and working full-time with kids meant it was difficult to study outside of work, so I enrolled onto one of the courses. I did my GCSE English and passed with a B grade. The following year I did my Math GCSE and passed with a C. That was around 2014 -2016. During this time, I became a Station Supervisor which meant a change to my shift pattern. I then enrolled at West Kensington and Chelsea college in 2016 and studied Access to Psychology while working at night.

This then led me to join Birkbeck where I studied BSc Psychology and achieved a 2:1 degree whilst still working full-time, including night shifts. My professors were all super-amazing especially Gillian Forester who is super-awesome. It was very difficult but rewarding to know that at my age (43 years old), I could still achieve my dreams. Birkbeck is amazing!

I am currently doing my master’s in Health and Clinical Psychology with Birkbeck. My aim is to go into counselling and volunteer in helping people who have experienced traumatic situations as myself. During the war I was subjected to the trauma of sexual assault which became a norm. There was a war and being alive was most important, with the belief that once I had another day it was okay. I was a survivor.

Counselling and a mission to help others:

I have had different forms of counselling and I have spoken at length to trusted friends and my pastors, so I believe I can better manage my trauma and live a productive life. However, not many of my friends or those who experience similar situations can. Additionally, before coming to the UK, counselling wouldn’t have been something I would use.  As most Liberians even today still believe, to admit any mental illness is a sign of weakness and you can’t tell the world you are hurting, or you will appear weak and a failure. Additionally, people in deprived counties like Liberia do not have access to counselling facilities, so once I qualify, I want to look into offering virtual counselling or volunteering overseas, perhaps attached to a charity.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Study Psychology at Birkbeck.
Learn more about the Health and Clinical Psychological Sciences Master’s degree.

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Location, location, location

An epiphany led to Natalie Pulfer selling up her house, moving to London and embarking on a two year MA Arts Policy and Management degree at Birkbeck. This is her #BBKgrad story.

This is a photo of graduand Natalie Pulfer

Natalie Pulfer

Natalie Pulfer is no stranger to the performing arts world having previously performed at the Royal Albert Hall with a background in local theatre. Yet, she put all of her creative ambitions aside to become a social worker and for the past 20 years has worked within the field, with specific responsibilities for children’s services.

Three years ago, she recalls waking up one day deciding that it was time to revisit her passion and look at ways of getting back into the Arts. She says, “I’m originally from Suffolk and I decided to sell my house, up sticks and move to London with the pure aim of getting back into the Arts somehow and this course seemed to be the best way that I could do it. I literally sold the house in April/May (2017), moved to London in September and started the MA in October. It really just all fell into place.”

The last time she had pursued academic study was in 2015, as part of continuous development for her social work career, but she relays that the Master’s was on a totally different level in terms of the approach and acquiring knowledge. To adapt to the challenge, she credits embracing the task ahead and being open to the support needed to overcome this as well as learning from others enrolled on her course in terms of easing back into learning.

Peer support was quite crucial to Natalie’s study path though she was conscious of her age and recognized that she was one of the “older ones”. However, she says she wasn’t acutely aware of this: “Everyone else was in their twenties and early thirties whereas I was in my mid to late thirties but I see that was also to do with the course I’d chosen to do. You tend to have to get into the Arts at a younger age. It was good to get those people around me with their energy. I quite enjoyed that.”

The flexibility of the Birkbeck learning model was also noted as pivotal to her study success and whilst she was working all day until 5pm and then having to go off to study at 6pm, she shares that she might have gone in lectures tired but never left tired. She would be doing 9am-9pm days, getting home at 10pm but shares, “The energy that you got from it was just great. You didn’t feel that you couldn’t engage and that was down to the tutors, really. They brought a lot of energy to it.”

Natalie studied her course over two years, on a part-time basis and whilst the experience was hugely beneficial; with her recently taking on some production work for an online festival and some further work with a production company, she notes that it wasn’t without its challenges. In her second year, she was diagnosed with dyslexia but found the College extremely supportive with adapting the study approach and providing technical equipment.

To anyone considering study at Birkbeck, she offers the following words of encouragement, “Just do it and don’t think about the barriers.” She adds that her social work career might have deterred her from applying elsewhere but Birkbeck identified her previous management skills and arts experience and was also able to draw on her knowledge of policy from her social work; which were all considered as part of her application.

As to the best part of studying in London, it’s clear she’s in no doubt the move from Suffolk to London was for the best. She says, “For the Arts, I think learning your craft in London is key because you have access to the theatres, arts projects and arts communities and that made a massive difference.”

Further Information

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