A SYRIAN refugee who fled war-torn Damascus as an 18-year-old student has spoken of the welcome she got in the UK and her gratitude at being given the chance to qualify as a dental nurse here.

Rola El Mgharbel, 24, arrived in the country with only a smattering of English about 18 months ago.

But, determined to make a success of her new life, she travelled by public transport from her home in Newton Aycliffe to Cestria Dental Practice, in Chester-le-Street, for two years to complete her placement.

She said: “When the war started in 2012 there were bombs falling around our home. We tried to take shelter underground.

“But, it was too dangerous and my father decided after a week the whole family should leave. We did not have time to get any of our belongings and left with nothing. It meant that I had to give up my place at university too.”

Rola, along with her parents, sister and young twin brothers, moved to Beirut, in Lebanon, where they lived for four years, making ends meet by working in clothing shops.

She said: “Life was very hard, as it was so expensive. Then the UN contacted us said we had the opportunity to be on the resettlement programme and could go to the UK.

“We were so relieved. My sister, who got married, stayed in Lebanon and we came to England in November 2016.

“I had studied school in Syria and did an English course in Lebanon, but when I arrived here it was difficult to speak the language. I could understand, but the accents were hard.

“We were a little afraid when we first arrived. But from the very first day people were welcoming and friendly.

“We felt it was home here and we were safe. We feel part of the community now and want to do something for all the people around us.”

Rola, was helped by Durham County Council’s English as an Additional Language (Eal) Team to get on a dental nursing course at New College, in Durham. The family also got help from City of Sanctuary.

Rola said: “Within six months I got a placement in at Cestria Dental Practice. I am so thankful. It gave me confidence to do things and to go out and improve my English.”

Practice owner Chris Bennett said: “When I was introduced Rola, who was trying to find a placement, I appreciated straight away she was a remarkable individual and was happy to help.

“The main issue at that time she wasn’t able to drive, so she was travelling three hours a day on bus to Newton Aycliffe and back, which was quite a commitment.

“She has been reliable, punctual and immediately demonstrated a real aptitude for the job.

“Rolo is very empathic person. She has grace in everything that she does and is lovely to work with.”

He added: “When she started, she only had limited conversation in English, which you would expect.

“To go from that 18 months ago, to be able to write academic essays and present course work, including specialist health care vocabulary, is remarkable. We are really proud of her.”

Rola, who qualified last month, is working part-time at the practice. She aims to do an access to higher education course, with the view to studying further become a dental hygienist.