As a British Pakistani Muslim, lone parent and mother of five in one of the most deprived areas of the UK, Sofia Begum has progressed to become a professional counsellor and leading activist for the poor and marginalised in her community, Small Heath in Birmingham.
Having left school aged 9, Sofia went from no formal education through studying on access courses, and on to a diploma in counselling. This led to her first paid job, counselling black and minority ethnic communities, and offering therapy to families experiencing domestic violence. Michael Lilley, her nominator and director of My Time CIC which employs her, said, “She is a role model for the community that is poor and marginalised. This is not easy in a traditional male dominated community.” Sofia is also chair of governors at her children’s school where she aims constantly to be an example to others.
Despite her background as a carer for disabled older siblings, being denied education and forced into an arranged marriage which disintegrated, she refuses to see herself as a victim. “I am able to say: if I can do it, so can you. I would like to train others to go into schools and encourage more from the community to join this profession.”