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The ESU gave me confidence that I could be a winner in a strange land

The Rt. Hon The Lord Paul Boateng

ESU Chairman

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‘I owe the English-Speaking Union big time,’ says The Rt. Hon the Lord Paul Boateng, barrister, and Chairman of the English-Speaking Union since 2015. ‘I know that if I hadn’t come across them in my first term at school in the UK, my life’s path would not have been as rich or as full as it has been.’

It’s a substantial statement, but one which Paul’s story bears out. He arrived in this country, aged 15, as a political refugee from Ghana. His father, a well-known lawyer and parliamentarian, had been taken away at gun-point and Paul and his mother and sister fled to England with just two suitcases between them.

They ended up on a council estate in Hemel Hempstead, where Paul attended the local grammar school. Recognising a talent for talking, the headmaster entered Paul into an ESU schools debating competition and informed him he was expected to win – which he duly did. ‘I was in trauma, in deprived economic circumstances in a one-parent family in a strange land,’ says Paul. ‘I had to adjust to a very different world and what the ESU did for me was to give me confidence that I could be a winner, and I’ve never really looked back.’

Realising the value of having a voice, Paul has since made it his mission to speak up for those without a voice, for those sidelined in society. He began his legal career representing people who were the object of different forms of oppression, speaking up for victims of police brutality, for battered women, and for people in sub-standard housing. The young, too, have long been a cause close to his heart and, after entering politics, he became the first Minister for Young People in 2000, launching a fund designed to ensure that every young person had the opportunity to reach their full potential.

‘I know from experience what it’s like to be young and vulnerable and I think it's very important that we should reach out to young people and enable them to maximise their potential in the way that I was able to. And there is nothing more precious than giving the power of self-expression.’
Team shot of children smiling with linked shoulders

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The English-Speaking Union believes every child should be able to make their voice heard. We believe that the ability to progress and to thrive in life relies on oracy – speaking and listening – skills, skills which are not currently a prominent part of the state school curriculum.

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