NCS grads Waj and Casey retell their experience of growing up in Rotherham, and how taking part in NCS exposed them to people from different backgrounds to them. The girls have been featured on BBC’s Crossing Divides series, which looks at the ways in which people connect across the fractures that divide societies.
I was born in Pakistan, but moved over to England with the rest of my family when I was about five years old. My dad had been offered a job here - my parents knew that by moving to England lots of opportunities would be opened up to their children so they gratefully took that opportunity, even if it meant they had to leave everything familiar and of their home behind.
When we first arrived we settled in Rotherham in a village called Brinsworth, which is a predominantly white British area. We were there for quite a few years and initially happy - but unfortunately my family became the target of a racist campaign from some locals. Eventually, after the abuse got too much we felt we were too unsafe to continue living there – and we decided we had to leave and moved to Eastwood, where we live now.
The school I initially went to was mixed - but the interesting thing was we still didn’t socialise with one another much and there was a clear divide when socialising between people from an Asian background and those from British-white families. I think this is because people tend to stay within what they are familiar with, which is sad as sometimes this can lead to misunderstanding of those different to them.
The abuse my family faced did have an impact on us all - I'm incredibly disheartened that in such a forward moving country some people have misconceptions about Islam and make judgements about those whose skin colour is different to theirs. Back then meeting new people always made me feel quite nervous; but being constantly worried of discrimination simply because of how you look is sadly something I had become accustomed to.
I was even nervous on the first day of NCS due to seeing plenty of people all very different to me. I was anxious of how well we could all get along and what perceptions they might already have of me.
However, I was completely wrong, the group came together quickly and we all got on really well. The whole experience fed my confidence to be more ambitious with my aims and with myself; meeting some wonderful people like Casey definitely made me glad I took the opportunity to take part in NCS that summer.
I've lived in Rotherham since I was born and have spent the majority of my life living in Maltby, which is about six miles outside of Rotherham town centre. While the whole of Rotherham is actually quite diverse, Maltby is almost 100% British white, so walking around it’s incredible rare that you’d see someone from a different ethnic background.
I also didn’t really get the opportunity to mix with people from different to me at school as again, almost everyone was white and lived very locally. This meant most of my friends were from the area and that’s where we’d normally socialise. Of course, there are parts of Rotherham which have a large British-Asian community living there, but because all my friends were local, we just never went to other parts of Rotherham.
Looking back to before I did NCS and met Waj, it was quite incredible how segregated I was from people different to me – without ever really realising it! I didn’t feel any prejudice towards people different to me, but I also didn’t know anything about their faith or culture, as I’d just never been given the opportunity to learn more about it.
In many ways, it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to do NCS, as I wanted to meet new people and explore more horizons. The first day of the programme was really interesting, as still people stuck with those similar to them and there was still quite a clear divide based mainly on ethnicity.
But as soon as the activities started, we all came together and started working as a really close team. It was so easy to mix with other people once you found out what you had in common.
While I met so many great people, I bonded really quickly with Waj after we found out we had the same taste in music, films and a very similar sense of humour! I’m so happy that months after finishing the programme we’re still really good friends. Both she and NCS have helped to open my eyes to just how similar people of the same ages are - regardless of race, religion or culture.
Watch Waj and Casey on BBC News's #CrossingDivides via the website here.