Interview with Shenel Birant
I have a necklace with a moon and a star. That represents my heritage; my family is Turkish Cypriot and this symbol – which is in our flag – is widely recognised in the community.
Growing up in the UK, my family wanted me to understand my culture and identity – so I went to a Turkish school on Saturdays. I complained about it when I was young, but as I grew older, I appreciated the opportunity to meet people with a similar background and learn the language. This has been a privilege, enabling me to connect with family when I go to Cyprus.
I started volunteering through NCS The Challenge when I was in sixth form. We supported the British Heart Foundation, which had a charity shop in my local area. As a result of this, I continued volunteering there for six months.
Studying sociology A-level opened my mind to issues faced by people simply because of who they are. I realised I didn’t know much about gender equality, racism and other issues, and I wanted to be part of making a difference.
NCS The Challenge took us to an Introduction to Tech day at the organisation I now work with fulltime. I love that the organisation provides seven days a year to employees as volunteering days. It’s important to me to use this time to give back to young people who, like me, might have not known about the variety of opportunities within the tech industries were it not for outreach schemes. I have collaborated with other organisations, who previously supported my journey through help with CV-writing and apprenticeships. We held an insight day at Langley Park School for Girls and are organising more in the future. It is important for me that young people see others that look like them in successful roles, so I try to ensure they meet a diverse range of experts.
All too often, young people are underestimated. That might be because assumptions are made about their background or experiences, or because they aren’t able to access opportunities. Many are pushed to go to university, while the skills needed for work are sometimes dismissed. I believe schools need to teach young people how to build their career, their CV. Businesses should also connect with schools more frequently, and there should be more talks about the different routes into work. Apprenticeships should not be overlooked. That knowledge should start as early as possible.
Time and time again, young people show they can be adaptable. Covid has shown this; we were able to switch the ways in which we learned. This made us a stronger generation.
I want young people to feel empowered. In the age of social media, we are seeing more young people sharing their stories and advocating for causes that are important to them. It is great to see this honesty, with no fear in sharing their opinions. I see a future where young people support other young people. And I am proud that I am able to be a part of that.
Shenel works for Salesforce