Manchester’s Unsung Heroes: Congolese refugee founds association to help boost racial integration

By Pippa Field

Relocating to a new country with language and cultural differences is a daunting experience irrespective of the circumstances.

Factor in being a refugee and that sense of foreboding intensifies.

But thanks to the hard work of one man ten years ago in founding the Tameside African Refugee Association (TARA), Greater Manchester’s newest residents have a wealth of support and assistance.

All alone and unable to communicate to anyone, Jules Mambu arrived in Britain from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001 in his early thirties.

A refugee placed in Ashton-under-Lyne, Jules’ lack of understanding of the English language severely hindered his chances at settling down quickly.

“I couldn’t express myself,” he said.

“I was depressed and isolated because I had no connections and I was only the third black African in Tameside.

“I could not access any services because of the language barrier.”

At that time, the number of Black African’s living across Tameside stood at 238 – a mere 0.11% of the entire borough and 950 fewer than counted in the 2011 census.

Jules openly admits he had to contend with a whole range of racial prejudices on top of the upheaval of moving country.

“In Tameside today you see black people on the street and doing their shopping,” he said.

“But when I came here there was nobody. Sometimes on the street they would call you ‘monkey,’ with people shouting at you.

“One day in 2001 I was asked to step off the number 168 bus because a lady was crying.

“I was upset at the time, I could not imagine it. It was in the 21st century.

“But I made a decision not to leave. I stayed because I have a dream.”

And spurred on by his own experiences, Jules decided other people should not face the same issues he had done.

“We are all human, we can work together and live together, so I set up TARA,” he explained.

“I said why not try something here for the next generation after me?

“They are only going to have the same problem, the language barrier and they won’t understand the system in the UK.”

After a little help from Tameside Council, Refugee Action Manchester and the Manchester Refugee Support Network, Jules set up TARA on May 8 2003.

With the aim of providing free information, advice and support to African refugees and asylum seekers placed in Tameside, the association began life inside a room of Ashton’s volunteer centre on Penny Meadow.

Such was the success of Jules’ idea, TARA became a registered charity on December 2005 and went from strength to strength to provide the variety of free services on offer today.

Now based in its own office on Stamford Street, the organisation employs seven people, with its founding member acting as the manager.

“It’s like you have a baby,” said Jules, who continues to live alone in Ashton.

“You have a new baby born, you see it growing up and you are proud.

 “It’s like myself. I am very, very proud.

“We do a lot helping refugees, asylum seekers, migrants to integrate into the wider community.

“We have 14 different projects going on at the moment. Last year we received 1,887 customers just for the money advice.

“People are now coming from everywhere, they are coming from Liverpool and we even have people from London.”

As well as financial help, TARA’s other support services include the healthy living project, cultural integration scheme, patients and GP project, self-employment project and even a homework club.

This year marks a milestone for the charity, as it celebrates its tenth anniversary with a party at Ashton Town Hall on July 13.

Jules revealed plans are already well underway with TARA going into two schools every Friday to teach pupils African dance in the run up to the celebrations.

He said: “We want to do a cultural exchange with different communities like the Bangladesh community, Pakistan community, the English community and the African community.

 “We have a group of 30 children, and in this group we mix all backgrounds, not only white communities.

“They will form a choir and wear the African costume during the celebration.”

As for the man himself Jules, who is now a British citizen, intends to hand the reins over completely in two years as he sets his mind to other causes.

With degrees in philosophy and theology already in the bag from his home country, he acquired a degree in criminology and sociology from the University of Manchester in 2004.

A degree in law from Manchester Metropolitan University followed in 2005 before he completed a Masters in globalization.

Jules has since started working with Greater Manchester Police as a crime advisor.

A passion for travelling has also led to him offering his advice on globalisation and current issues at conferences in far-flung places including America.

And Jules added the next step would be to concentrate on new charity CoWeP which works in the UK and his native Congo.

But despite a move away from his beloved TARA, Jules is in no doubt that Ashton is a very different place to the one he moved to 12 years ago.

“It has changed a lot,” he said.

“You have regeneration, with new buildings and new businesses. But also in term of relationships it has changed a lot.

“When I came before there was less tolerance between races, especially between the black and the white community.

“But at the moment we are working together. I have made it my second village.”

For more on this story and many others, follow Mancunian Matters on Twitter and Facebook.

Related Articles