“I was living here in Finsbury Park before and this lady at a hair salon I used to go to asked me if I was the girl on the window banner. I didn’t know what to say! And on YouTube when I’m watching videos, I come up on adverts. It’s still weird.
“And yet, I used to come here every day and the security guy still didn’t recognise me. I didn’t want to be the person to point and say ‘It’s me – from the window!”
Since our last conversation, Camila has graduated from City and Islington College, moving on to Kingston University in the summer. She finds it strange to be back in Finsbury Park.
“I haven’t quite found home yet, but college was great for me. It worked because I could fit it around work while gaining the most relevant qualification I needed to go to university.”
Camila walks me through her move from Caracas, Venezuela, in 2015, seeking a course that would provide a route into the world of politics. “It’s hard,” she says. “Venezuela is still not there yet. We’re still waiting. But the UK is definitely a place that offers a lot of opportunities.
“If you come in with the desire and the will to do something, it provides the tools… to study, to get a degree that will allow you to do something with your life. Now? I’m getting there. It’s taken me many years, maybe six years, to realise that I’m okay and that I’m safe. I’ve been in the UK for four years, but it took some time to adjust.”
It hasn’t been an easy ride for Camila. Venezuela remains hampered by political instability, violence, inflation and food shortages. Camila recounts a number harrowing stories from her time at home, but speaks candidly about them.
“It’s part of the culture,” she says. “We Venezuelans get together and talk about these things openly. You can’t internalise it. We try to be warm; we laugh about these things. You abstract it and take away how real it can be, and suddenly it’s just a joke.
“I’ve had a gun in my face back home. A friend of mine got kidnapped. I saw a guy get shot in a protest, bleeding out on the floor. These things follow you and it’s not something you can just get over. It makes normal things difficult sometimes. I just went to see The Joker and found it really hard to watch at points — and going to the cinema is my favourite thing to do.”
During her time at City and Islington College, Camila founded the CANDI Model of United Nations (MUN), an extra-curricular activity designed to provide students with a space to talk through and understand global political issues. Since progressing to university, she has become involved in Kingston’s equivalent society, but still works with the City and Islington chapter to help ensure a legacy.
“Living in Venezuela pushed me to come here and try to make a difference politically. I saw the opportunity, acknowledging ‘oh – this thing exists and I have these feelings and this desire to change this’. And this – the MUN – is the right way to do this. The college helped me set it up and it’s been really good so far.
“I love the International Relations course I’m on now, too. My Access course at college provided the foundations that I needed for my degree. It’s taking that to the next level. The university took us to the Imperial War Museum recently and we got to see the different narratives and stories told around these events. The critical thinking fits well with my MUN work, and I feel like I’m developing the skills I need to make that difference.”
Camila recently returned from an MUN conference in Oxford and is currently organising trips to Geneva and New York to see how the professionals do it. She’s hopeful for 2020, telling of preparatory work with the college’s Sixth Form Centre in Angel to establish the programme as a regular enrichment activity at the site.
“We’re going to do the Sussex University conference again next year. This time I’m the Faculty Advisor because I’m not a student at the college anymore. I can’t be Head Delegate. But I still want to work with the college to ensure there’s succession and that the next generation of students have the opportunity to participate.
“It was important for me to find a voice through the MUN. It’s about recognising the meaning of these political issues and working out what you think about them, and then having the confidence to stand up and defend your point of view… but also, you’re representing a delegation. You’re not debating on behalf of yourself. You have to learn to see the world through someone else’s eyes.”
She ties things up: “Doing an Access to HE course at college was the right decision for me. There were support schemes and a lot of care; I learnt how to reference and how to digest information properly. Setting up the MUN helped me to empathise with other people, to be patient. I learnt what I needed to reach this stage.
“My dream is to represent Venezuela in the Security Council for the United Nations… but I also want to see Japan, and I like England. I’m still working things out. I’m still trying to find ‘home’. But things are moving in the right direction, I think.”
You can find City and Islington Model of United Nations on Instagram at @CandiMUN, or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meetings take place at the Centre for Lifelong Learning on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5pm – 7pm.