*Trigger Warning - mention of death, homophobia, trafficking, and sexual assault.*

I was born Uganda, in the early 80s. I had a reasonably good childhood. My father worked for the police, and Mum stayed at home.

When I was 10 my dad travelled to Canada, planning for me and Mum to join him; but when I was 12, he passed away. Things became really difficult: Mum managed to pay for me to go to school, but it was hard. 

After school I got the equivalent of a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Computer Science, then a really good job with a telecommunications company. Mum was happy, and I could supplement her income and give back to her.

As a teenager I was in a same sex relationship, which was culturally unacceptable. The community found out and confronted me and Mum at home, setting fire to our house. Mum told me to run, and that was the last time I saw her. She passed away in the fire.

With nowhere to stay and no relatives I went into hiding. Uganda had become too small for me, and the trauma was too much. So I paid a man to get me out of the country, and into the UK, through Edinburgh Airport in 2013. I was locked in a room all day, until he told me someone he knew was going to find me work.

But this person had paid for me to do sexual work for him, which I only discovered as he was driving me away. I escaped when the car stopped.

I slept on the street that night. In the morning, I asked an African gentleman passing by for help. He took me to the Scottish Refugee Council. The lovely lady there said: “You’ve been trafficked.” I argued with her, because I didn’t understand.

She got me on the train to Migrant Help’s Paisley office, where I was interviewed. Again, they said: “You have been trafficked”, but I was still thinking the man I had paid didn’t intentionally do this.

Migrant Help were lovely. They found me accommodation, gave me money every week for food, found me a lawyer, and started the asylum application process. 

To be told I needed to apply for asylum and become a refugee took some accepting.

I stayed in a flat with an Eritrean who had come to the UK on a boat. He was like a big brother to me. He made me breakfast on my first morning, and from that moment he was amazing. We still keep in touch.

My Migrant Help adviser, Smeena, advised me to get counselling.

When you are raised in Uganda, you don’t show emotion. Men are not supposed to show their hearts, so I argued! She insisted, so I said yes to humour her.

To say I’m glad I did is an understatement.

I met my counsellor every week. I told her about my guilt about Mum’s death. She said that she was a mum too, and that mothers want to protect their children. That made me see things differently, and made the weight a bit lighter.

Two weeks after our last session, she asked me if I wanted to meet for lunch, and we had a friendly conversation. Then I met her husband, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) who knows a bit about everything and had Sunday lunch at their beautiful house. I was starting to like them, also wondering what was going on.

My asylum application was accepted in July 2014, and I was granted refugee status. Then you need to find work, and start paying rent. It was a relief to finally feel I could do that.

The counsellor suggested I do engineering at college. I was accepted on the most basic course, the National Certificate in Engineering (NC).

As I had to leave my Home Office-provided flat, the counsellor suggested I come and stay with them.

I moved in and I started going to college. They made everything work for me - they are really generous human beings who don’t want anything in return. I sometimes think I came to the UK to meet amazing people.

I finished my NC, and did the HND too, a two-year course, while working in a call centre. Five days a week I would get up early to get the bus, work until 9pm, then get the bus home. I finally took my driving test and bought my first car, a 15-year-old Volkswagen Polo.

I stayed with the family for four years and they became my family. I still see them every Sunday.

After completing the HND, I started studying for my Bachelors in Engineering (BEng) at university, and moved into my first (owned) flat on the same day.

I met some amazing people while studying, who I’m still in touch with.

After graduating, I accepted a job I didn’t even remember applying for (which I still do now), and studied for an MSc at the same time, which was a struggle. I finished it in 2022.

After five years I was granted UK citizenship. I attended the ceremony, and applied for a British passport.

I am fortunate to now own a three-bed semi. Right now it’s just me, but I would like to have a family at some point.

I am very lucky to have a decent job and maybe one day I’d like to become Chartered. I like to have goals. I always feel like I could do more.

As long as you’re content, you’ve got food to eat and a roof over your head, and a decent job, that’s all you need. I’m grateful. I know people who would do anything to be in my position. But it would never have been possible without Migrant Help and Smeena.

If there’s one thing I’d want people to take from my story it would be: don’t give up. Just keep going. There have been times I’ve thought ‘I can’t do this’. But as long as you’ve got support, don’t ever stop trying to move forward.