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Joy for trafficked child who survived against the odds

PUBLISHED: 17:29 02 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:17 07 September 2010

Tunde Jaji

Tunde Jaji

Robyn Rosen A NIGERIAN man who was trafficked into the country and kept as a domestic servant before being saved by a Muswell Hill teacher has this week graduated from university. Tunde Jaji, 23 attended his graduation ceremony on Friday with his guardia

Robyn Rosen

A NIGERIAN man who was trafficked into the country and kept as a domestic servant before being saved by a Muswell Hill teacher has this week graduated from university.

Tunde Jaji, 23 attended his graduation ceremony on Friday with his guardian Lynne Awbery, of Alexandra Park Road who rescued him after a horrific childhood.

Tunde met Ms Awbery, 51, when she was a dyslexia teacher at Park View Academy six years ago. "When I first met him, I could tell that there was something very sad about him," she said. "He couldn't make eye contact and stuttered badly and wasn't like the other boys his age."

Before finishing school at the age of 18, Ms Awbery gave Tunde her email address and told him to get in touch if he needed help.

Just months later, she received a phone call. He had been kicked out by the "aunt" who had been using him as a domestic servant since the age of 10.

"They had been treating him as a slave," Ms Awbery said. "He had been going to school and no one realised the truth, but at home, he was ordered around and was treated terribly."

After he was turned out by the family, he spent the night wherever he could, mostly sleeping on friends' sofas. Eventually, he turned to the one person who had shown him kindness in his life, and contacted Ms Awbery.

"As soon as I heard his story, I told him to collect his belongings and move in with us," Ms Awbery said. "Despite the things he had been through, he remained a very gentle, calm young man."

But Tunde had no passport or birth certificate and had been falsely told that his parents had died when he was a baby. He lived in fear that he would be deported back to Nigeria.

"I started trying to investigate who he was and how we could get his identification and prove he had lived in this country for more than 14 years and could remain under law," Ms Awbery said.

During the next three years, she worked tirelessly to keep Tunde, pictured, in the country, enlisting the help of, among others, MP Lynne Featherstone, and BBC journalist, Kurt Barling.

"I used to email Tony Blair every week religiously, desperate to try to help Tunde."

Finally, on his 21st birthday, Tunde received a fax informing him that he had been granted indefinite leave to remain and allowing him to complete his university studies.

"Everyone was absolutely stunned that he could come through this and have the will and courage to go on," Ms Awbery said. "It was a tremendous achievement for him."

Tunde received his 2.1 degree in animation production from the Arts Institute in Bournemouth on his 23rd birthday on June 19.

"I always drew as a kid and wanted to make my own cartoon one day, but the real love for it and the inspiration behind it was making my own world and characters from my imagination," he said.

"I never thought I'd be able to go to university. It felt very surreal after everything that had happened to me. Without Lynne and some of the other people that helped, I don't know where I'd be now - I don't even want to think about it."

Tunde now wants to pursue a career in animation and with his citizenship fully intact, he can continue full steam ahead.


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