Seeing beyond the label

Jamie O’Neill is roshni’s Youth Network Officer and works as part of their Youth Leadership Project (YLP).

Jamie O'Neill

Jamie O’Neill

The YLP aims to work with young people from ME communities and looks at ways to support them to be leaders within their own peer groups and develop their skills to be community leaders in their own right. The YLP is currently training and supporting young people from ME communities to facilitate focus groups as part of a consultation to establish what are the aspirations of young people from ME communities and how, they think, these goals can be achieved.

roshni is supporting young people to challenge the barriers that are forced upon them by finding out directly from those affected. What do young people think the barriers are? What are their goals and where do they seem themselves, their family and their community in the future?

There are many barriers that hold young people back regardless of which community they belong to; Unemployment, under-employment and under achievement are issues that every organisation working with young people is trying to deal with; but when it comes to ME communities, I believe that society is a long way off of doing enough to motivate and inspire ME young people.

ME Young People are more likely to; live on or below the poverty line; live in overcrowded social housing and underachieve in education. They are less likely to have the right information on Relationship and Sexual Health and to know where to go for support with alcohol or drug misuse and abuse. If a young person has arrived in Scotland as an Unaccompanied Minor, seeking asylum, they are likely to be placed in care, and that means; supported accommodation, or living with a family who has little knowledge of their religion, customs and culture, which is vital for a young person to establish their own identify. Girls, in particular, growing up within ME communities can face additional barriers with; FGM, Forced Marriage and sex education all subjects that most would never dream of speaking about with someone within their community and do not trust professionals outwith. Girls also have less information and confidence when reporting domestic abuse, exploitation or child abuse.

No one can deny that Scotland has come a long way in the past few decades in changing policy and laws to try and make sure that everyone living in our society has an equal chance; however, in practice, although we do not always like to admit it, the more ‘labels’ attached to someone, the more difficult their life is likely to be. A “young, black, gay, disabled boy” for example, is more likely to face barriers because our country still hasn’t done enough to make sure he doesn’t, nevertheless, however likely he is to face discrimination, is it right to assume that he will?

After generations of people coming to Scotland, living, working and settling here, we have not learnt lessons from the past. When a ‘new’ community is established, society puts the barriers up itself by not communicating, learning or sharing. Rumours are circulated as fact and ‘push’ new communities so ‘far away’, that they can only rely on others within their community.  It just isn’t enough anymore to label a whole section of society as ‘hard to reach’ and think that justifies not engaging.

roshni works closely with mainstream organisations up and down the country, supporting them with engaging with ME communities. Mainstream organisations cannot get to the people we get to; but why is this the case and why is it, more often than not, left for smaller grassroots organisations to use their, already stretched, resources to do vital work within ME communities? Is it because we think outside the box? Are we more flexible? Or do we actually see how working with ME communities, directly, breaks down barriers and progresses light-years with reaching equality for all?

roshni can see the enormous potential working with ME communities and through my work with young people, there is certainly no lack of creativity; will-power; imagination or passion; but there are sometimes additional needs that need to be met and people need to be supported. I come into work every day and meet and work with people who I am so thankful to be around. People who are very capable to become community leaders, and they work hard for their families and communities, which in turns makes Scotland great.

The Scottish government and larger organisations need to do more to learn from ME communities and have constant dialogue, not just as a ‘tick-box’ exercise where you find yourselves running after the same people from the same communities who want to engage. You need to change the whole structure, get to the people you think you can’t get to and let people see a real difference.

Jamie O’Neill, Youth Network Officer

Find out more about roshni’s projects and services by visiting

Any views or opinions expressed belong solely to the author and do not necessarily represent those of roshni


6 thoughts on “Seeing beyond the label

  1. A very interesting article, particularly regarding unaccompanied minors arriving in the UK as asylum seekers. A central reason why organisations such as Roshni and the Scottish Refugee Council are doing such important work.

  2. I was at the focus group last week and its good that roshni is speaking to us directly. It was also more fun that I expected

  3. Jamie got about 100 young people to go to roshnis dinner in October. I have never been to anything like that in my life.

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