Ali was just thirteen when war in Sudan forced him and his 24-year-old cousin to leave their families and flee the country. Seeking safety far away from the conflict, they travelled to neighbouring Chad and then Libya, where Ali’s cousin worked in the gold mines to support them both. Life was difficult and conditions were hard, and eventually Ali’s cousin decided they should attempt the crossing to Italy, where they hoped to find work and escape poverty. Yet the journey, like so many crossings attempted by refugees, was treacherous. Tragically, Ali’s cousin didn’t survive.

All alone and having lost the only person he could rely on; Ali was gratefully taken in by those they’d travelled with on the boat. Together, he and the other passengers, spent the next couple of months moving from city to city, passing through Napoli and Milan, eventually to Geneva in Switzerland, and then to France, where he stayed living on the streets for another seven months before making his way to England.

Being only 15 at the time, Ali was immediately placed in foster care and started at a local school where he was able to finish his education, gaining eight GCSEs. An incredible achievement for someone who’d been through so much. At 19, when his foster placement had come to an end, he was fortunate to be given a room in one of our supported accommodation services, where he continued studying hard at college and dreamt of becoming an engineer.

But Ali’s plans soon changed as he quickly realised, he might not be in a position to earn money for at least five years, and he worried about what that would mean for his family back home.

“I just wanted to look after my family, to be honest,” he says of his mum and little brother, who still live in Sudan. “I realised that if I became an electrician instead, I could be earning after two or three years, instead of five.”

Even after completing his level two and level three qualifications, Ali still found it difficult to begin his career as an electrician.

“I applied for work so many times, but they always asked if I was self-employed, and self-employed means you need your own equipment. You can’t go in and say, ‘hey, can I just borrow that?’, you know? It’s not gonna work like that”.

Although Ali had the qualifications and skills, he didn’t have the money to buy the tools he needed to do the job. And after exploring every possible avenue to find funding, he was on the verge of giving up.

“I applied for jobs in Tesco and Sainsbury’s,” he says. “Thinking maybe I can work in customer service for five or six months, live in a hostel because it’s cheap, until I save up enough money to send to my family.”

With all these thoughts going around in his head, Ali eventually confided in his progression coach, Sahal, a Depaul UK member of staff dedicated to supporting Ali to achieve his goals and learn to live independently. When Sahal heard about the problems Ali was having, he wanted to help, and suggested Ali apply for an Inspire grant – a Depaul UK initiative that provides the young people in our services with the kind of financial help needed to open doors and give them opportunities to progress their careers.

After so much disappointment, Ali wasn’t initially hopeful that this would be any different. Not one to give up, though, he wrote an application that evening and a few weeks later heard that he’d been invited for an interview.

“Even at that time, I didn’t think they were going to buy my tools,” he says. ‘I just gave it a try’.”

Ali had two interviews as part of the grant application process. He impressed the panels with his enthusiasm, experience and qualifications, and had the opportunity to explain why having his own tools was so important to beginning his career.

It was only after the last interview that Ali really began to believe that he might have a chance. “I was like, yeah, maybe this is going to do something,” he says with a grin.

Ali was right, and five days after his final interview he was told that he’d been successful and would receive the grant worth £2,000 so that he could buy the tools necessary to begin his career.

“I felt really good. I felt like now I can actually work. Before I was just dreaming, but now I have the tools. So, I’m just gonna work. I can tell any company now that I’m self-employed with my own tools. I’m ready to work any day, any time, any place.”

Now Ali is preparing to move out of supported accommodation and into his own flat. His plan is to work for a couple of years, earning enough to support his family, before potentially starting his own business with a friend.

“I’m so grateful for everything Depaul UK has done for me,” says Ali. “From supporting me with building my CV or buying the necessary equipment for my work, and so many other good things as well.”