We couldn't do what we do without the help of our fab volunteers. From drop off points to donation sessions, it all runs smoothly thanks to their hard work.

We would like to celebrate Sadaf Zareen, a Pedal Power volunteer. As a Pedal Power graduate herself, she uses her experience to support other refugee women joining the programme.  

Recently we had a chat with Sadaf about her Bike Project journey and experience volunteering with us. Read the interview below:

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your journey with The Bike Project.

Hello, my name is Sadaf Zareen and I’m originally from Pakistan. I’ve been in the United Kingdom for the last 11 years. I came as a student. I completed my degree here. Because of some personal reasons I had to claim asylum in 2015 and from 2015 until now, I’m still struggling with my asylum claim.

I have been through a lot of phases in these few years, I have seen a lot of good but most of them bad things. I was in contact with a few organisations, because when you are left alone you need someone to support you. In the meantime, one of my friends introduced me to The Bike Project. She told me 'It’s a very good organisation, you should contact them, they will give you a bike, they will teach you'.

At first, I didn’t believe her, I said ‘No, just a gimmick kind of a thing’ but then we met again and she pushed me to get in contact. Finally, I got in contact, I went on their website, filled a form, gave them all my details and later they contacted me. They said ‘We have a location in Dalston you can visit where there will be an instructor, they can teach you and we will put you in a queue and you’ll shortly receive a bike. I said ‘Okay! Let’s give it a try’. Then I went there, I met Charlie, Ricky and Nour and they just welcomed me like they have known me their whole life. I was a bit scared, a bit nervous because it was our first meeting. I didn't know what to expect, but it was very welcoming and a warm welcome. And from there the journey with The Bike Project started.

I started riding a bike in a group but shortly in 2019 the lockdown happened, everything closed and we had to stay at home. Back to the square one where you are left all alone. But The Bike Project didn’t leave us alone. They started online meetings on Zoom. Obviously, we have all the time in the world so I was really happy someone was still looking out for me. Sometimes we cook, we exercise, we chat, play games- these kinds of things. It was very helpful and very refreshing meetings.

Then one day I received an email from The Bike Project, ‘You are going to receive a bike in the next few days’. I said ‘Oh, how is it possible?!’ but because of the lockdown they made it quicker and they delivered the bike to my address. I was really really happy that I had gotten something and they hadn’t forgotten me.

At that time, when I started riding a bike I started crying because I was not able to ride it properly. Then, after some time, they told me they were arranging an instructor in my area. I got a very lovely instructor Daniel, we matched the dates and timings and then she started coming to my area. We went to the local park where she started teaching me. Because of The Bike Project and because of Daniel, today I am able to ride a bike on the road. I’m still learning, I’m not saying that I’m perfect, but it’s all because of them. I’m really grateful to them for this opportunity.

I view The Bike Project differently (to other organisations), they are doing something practical for women- refugee and asylum seeker women. Most of the organisations (they help your) mental wellbeing, they talk to you, they give you a solicitor and legal advice but we want to come out of that stance. We need something practical. The Bike Project has a totally different approach. I really love it.

When I learnt that I can work as a volunteer, without giving it a second thought (I said) ‘Okay, I will go and help’ because The Bike Project has done so much for me, now it’s my turn to pay them back. I said ‘Okay, I’m ready, whatever I can do’.

I started volunteering with them. I was assisting Nour and we talked to the different ladies. I don’t have a laptop or a tablet, I have to work from my mobile so The Bike Project gave me a laptop for my office work. That was another big step, obviously I’m only a volunteer. They have supported me in another way- as a volunteer- which means they take care of their staff. I’m happy with The Bike Project and I love to be a part of it.

What skills have you learnt volunteering?

Before (volunteering) I was thinking about myself, my problems. I was not aware of what other ladies or other asylum seekers are facing. By talking to them, I learnt their problems, what they have to face, what they have to go through, and how they manage it...and how I can be helpful for them. That’s what I learnt from volunteering, how you help other people.

Why do you think the work The Bike Project does is important?

As I said The Bike Project is doing something totally different. Obviously, you need someone to talk, who can understand, who can give you advice but they (The Bike Project) are giving you physical exercise, (a) kind of a motivation, they encourage you to go out. I got my bike in the two-year lockdown, it was the summer and I was all alone. I took my bike and I went to the park or to get groceries. When you feel that fresh air on your face, it feels like you are free.

The sense of freedom is very important, no matter if you are an asylum seeker or not- it is for everyone. That moment is very important for us, that we have something of our own and we own something and we can manage it. Because everyone treats you like you’re an asylum seeker- you’re not allowed to work, you’re not allowed to rent a house, you can’t go here- there are so many restrictions. But it (cycling) gives you a feeling that you can achieve something. That is very good, I really like that.

What’s your favourite part of volunteering so far?

It’s a difficult question, I can’t pick up one point. The whole experience has been wonderful. The whole experience, I love it.

What’s your favourite cycling memory?

When I was outside cycling, and when I crossed a big bus (laughs). That’s my favourite memory. There was a bus standing there and there was a car, and I crossed them from the middle. For me it’s an achievement, I crossed the bus.

In a perfect world, how would you like refugees to be supported in this country?

There are a lot of refugees who are struggling and they should get the status, if you have allowed them here, because it is a big chunk they have wasted of their life. If you are allowed to work it’s under the short occupational list and if you don’t fall into that category you can't work or companies don’t hire you because your status is still not clear. They (companies) don’t want to spend their time and money on a person who has no future with them. When I was applying to The Bike Project I was making my CV and realised ‘What I have done? Where are these years? How to fill these gaps?’. So we should allow them (to work), we should give them that part of their life and we should not snatch that from them. We should give them their life back.

Special thanks to Sadaf for sharing her experience with us. Help us get 250 recently arrived refugees cycling by donating to our Christmas appeal today!

Written on: 20 Dec 2021 | Author: Anya Jhoti

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