WHEN young Elaf Hussien arrived in her new home city of Edinburgh three years ago, she was in for a culture shock.
After all, the then 12-year-old Muslim girl from the Sudan, East Africa, was unable to speak a word of English and her headscarf made her an easy target for racists.
Now a studious, confident 15-year-old living in Clermiston, Elaf puts her transformation down to membership of an inclusion group – and wants others to get the same opportunity.
“The most difficult thing when I arrived was language,” said Elaf. “I found it hard to communicate with people.
“I felt I was being judged because I couldn’t speak English. It made me feel lonely and isolated.”
Her sense of being an outcast was compounded by Islamophobic attacks for wearing a hijab.
“There was some nasty stuff because I wear a headscarf,” she added. “They’d say things like ‘go back home’. Some people think all Muslim people are terrorists – it’s not true!”
Supported by charities Fixers and Action for Children, Elaf is one of a group of youngsters calling for a roll-out of cultural inclusion groups in Capital schools.
Comprising members from all over the world, they have made a short film highlighting the benefits of such groups to be launched at Holyrood next year.
“The film’s aim is to challenge schools and local authorities to do more to encourage cultural integration and tackle prejudice,” said Paul Larsmon, of Fixers.
“It also wants to boost the confidence and self-esteem of young people learning to live in a new country.”
For Elaf and her friends, the model works – providing a sense of belonging to help tackle racism and discrimination.
“There are people from all sorts of backgrounds,” said Elaf. “We talk about our problems and feelings and you feel you’re being understood. It helped me become more confident and outgoing. And now I feel proud of my Muslim heritage.”
Confidence restored, Elaf now hopes to go on to study law and modern politics when she finishes school.
In the film, youngsters share stories of how such inclusion groups boost understanding of each other’s cultures.
The film is due to be launched on February 22 next year at the Scottish Parliament.
Elaf and her friends will present to an audience expected to include MSPs and educators.
Education convener Ian Perry praised the city’s multi-cultural schools and welcomed the film project.
“This ethnic and linguistic mix is something we value and makes our classrooms so vibrant,” he said. “It also provides our schools with the chance to explore and celebrate a wide variety of beliefs and customs.
“I’ll be keen to hear how their presentation is received in Parliament.”