A journey shaped by resilience, community, and the transformative power of volunteering. My name is Tarek Mrad, and my story begins in 1997 in the city of Beirut, Lebanon.
In 2003, at the age of 5, I moved to Hounslow, a place that would become the canvas of my life’s experiences. School life, unfortunately, was not without its challenges. Bullying tested my strength, but with each trial, I emerged stronger, laying the foundation for the person I am today. I attended Hounslow Heath School, where I received invaluable support that significantly boosted my confidence.
The inclusive environment ensured that I was treated just like everyone else, promoting a positive and empowering atmosphere. However, life took a turn when my family relocated from Hounslow to Eastbourne. Despite facing this transition, I remained determined to pursue my education.
After completing school, I eagerly enrolled in college, only to encounter a setback when, unfortunately, my EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) was revoked by the council after two years. This sudden change made it challenging for me to continue my education, adding an extra layer of difficulty to my journey.
My story took a positive turn when I returned to Hounslow, and I joined the Our Barn Community’s Our Futures Programme. This program, designed for individuals with disabilities seeking paths to education, employment, and training, became a catalyst for personal growth. It was during this time that I not only developed valuable digital skills but also made connections that would shape my future. Our Barn is an amazing charity but I couldn’t get more involved because I had so many personal things to deal with.
The turning point in my journey with the community came when I attended a community culture fashion show organised by Heston West Big Local. Inspired by the event, I dove into volunteering, engaging in clean-up days, cooking activities, mural projects, and even walking football. My commitment and dedication to the community did not go unnoticed, and soon, I found myself invited to join the Big Local board, contributing to the group’s collective effort.
Then, the unforeseen challenges of the pandemic struck. However, even in the face of adversity, I found my stride. I played a pivotal role in setting up the Community Podcast—an initiative that not only showcased our community’s resilience but also allowed me to interview inspiring individuals, locally and globally. The 24-hour podcast marathon, in collaboration with the One World Strong Foundation, became a testament to the power of community storytelling.
My efforts were recognised when I received the Hounslow Heroes Award, an acknowledgement of the impact of community-driven initiatives. My voice reached beyond our local borders when I was interviewed on BBC Radio London, sharing the stories of our community with a broader audience.
With newfound connections, I helped with the organisation of a Community Boccia Tournament with a friend, using funding to improve accessibility. The success of this event showcased the strength of our community when united by a common goal.
Representing the Big Local on a national scale, attending the Big Local Connects event in Nottingham, and becoming part of the Leadership Academy opened doors to new friendships and partnerships. Despite facing challenges associated with my disability, I remain in my commitment to advocating for change, focusing on improving accessibility and breaking down societal barriers.
Recently, with the fantastic backing of my friends from the Leadership Academy, I launched an exciting venture—the International Friendship Group. This initiative aims to unite individuals from all corners of the world who share a common drive to uplift communities. To my delight, the group even made headlines in the Ealing press. This project holds a special place in my heart, especially in today’s world where loneliness is on the rise for everyone. I strongly believe that such groups serve as a bridge, connecting people and enhancing mental well-being and happiness for all.
I want to leave you with an inspiring quote that summarises my journey and the power of collective effort: “People with disabilities, are strong and their voice and story can help shape and improve our communities and our future.” My story is a testament to this truth, reminding us all that with ongoing commitment and collective effort, we can build a community that is fully inclusive for everyone. Thank you for your support and for being part of my journey.