Camden teenager: ‘I fled to UK in back of lorry from persecution in Afghanistan’

Ezat Gulzaman, 19. Picture: Polly Hancock

Ezat Gulzaman, 19. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

A student who fled persecution in war-torn Afghanistan to study in Camden is one of a handful of exceptional young people who have been honoured for outstanding achievements.

Ezat Gulzaman, 19, of Chalk Farm, was presented with a Camden Youth Award at a ceremony recognising Camden’s most extraordinary youngsters at the council’s Camden Centre in King’s Cross on Wednesday.

Aged just 16, he had to flee his home country Afghanistan after suffering physical violence, and undertook a gruelling six-month journey to the UK hidden in the back of a lorry.

When he first arrived in 2012, he spoke no English and suffered serious emotional problems following an arduous struggle to find somewhere to live.

But the plucky youngster has gone on to achieve qualifications in English as a foreign language and business at Westminster Kingsway College in King’s Cross.

Ezat said: “When I first came to England, I didn’t speak English but I wanted to learn and I found the college.

“The teachers here have supported me and explained things to me that I didn’t understand.”

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Chris Luard, Ezat’s personal connexions advisor at the college, said: “Ezat has shown huge strength of character in overcoming considerable adversity.”

The awards are an annual celebration of Camden’s young people and those who work in the borough to support them.

Hundreds were handed awards including Duke of Edinburgh Awards (DofE) and Sport Leaders qualifications among other personal development certificates.

Ezat was among eight youngsters honoured with individual trophies for categories including personal journey, positive role model, and young entrepreneur.

Entries for the awards were judged by a panel of young people.

Ellie Thompson, 15, was handed the young carer award after working tirelessly for a year to support her mother during her recovery from breast cancer - all while studying for her GCSEs at Parliament Hill School in Highgate Road.

From housework to emotional support, Ellie was praised for standing at her mum’s side without ever shying from her studies.

The teen, of Camden Town, could not make it to Wednesday’s ceremony because she was on holiday in Ireland but heard the award being presented by listening in on a mobile phone.

Her mum Jayne Thompson, who stood proudly in Ellie’s place at the ceremony, said: “It’s amazing. The whole of Ireland just heard it!”

Other award-winners included Francesca Cutri, an autistic student who has become an ambassador for her college, Wac Arts in Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park.

The 21-year-old arrived at the college as a part-time student taking part in a web-based project but as her confidence grew, she went on to become a full-time pupil and volunteer with young people who have disabilities.

Camden’s 16-year-old deputy youth MP Sarah Ryan, who spoke at the awards, said: “It is really important for us to focus on the positives that young people bring.

“This is an amazing event and there should be more like it.”