Posted: 26 May 2017

A day at the Palace

On 18 May 2017, Maya Ghazal, a young refugee from Syria, was chosen as one of 20 children and young people from around the world to receive the inaugural Diana Legacy Award. When Maya first got to the UK, she had no friends and was turned away from schools in the UK. She turned to our MyPlace service in Birmingham where young refugees and migrants meet weekly to cook together, have fun and get help from legal and translation services. Now Maya speaks out in churches and in the media with us to shed light on the cruel reality often still ahead for young refugees and migrants when they get here. We are thrilled to see Maya honoured for creating positive social change in her community. Here Maya recounts her unforgettable experience at St James’s Palace meeting His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William and Prince Harry.

After a lot of waiting, the day had come.

I’d barely had a glimpse of sleep the night before and my emotions were all over the place. I was smiling, laughing and talking to myself. I was stressed and nervous, afraid I might miss the train. 

I couldn’t believe what was going to happen. But I went to the train with confidence and a wide smile on my face.

You can see Maya featured in the above video from the Diana Legacy Award 2017

The evening reception

The hotel was amazing; it was, by itself, a love story for me.

I used to send pictures of Prince Harry to my friend and tell her ‘I am going to meet him one day’

I was so looking forward to getting to know the other winners and staff members at the evening reception. I couldn’t believe that I was part of it. I still haven’t taken it off my ‘Legacy Award Holder 2017’ badge!

Just one day away from receiving the award, I still couldn’t digest what was happening. In the reception I met Tessy Ojo, CEO of the Diana Award. She came, full of enthusiasm, to talk to me and introduce herself - this was the moment that I realised I wasn’t in a dream.

An emotional journey

Again I didn’t sleep well.

I felt something beyond nerves, beyond a sense of success or that overwhelming appreciation of being recognised. One of my dreams when I was in Syria was to live in the UK. When I woke up that morning I couldn’t believe how far I had come. Even though it was nothing like I had expected or imagined, I had ended up living here and it felt amazing.

Maya Ghazal

Maya at the Palace

I used to send pictures of Prince Harry to my friend and tell her ‘I am going to meet him one day.’

That day, 18 May, the phrases ‘keep dreaming high’ and ‘everything is possible’ never stopped popping in my mind. I don’t think I will ever feel the same happiness that I did that morning.

Just your regular day at the Palace…

Like a lot of the other award winners, I didn’t expect anything out of what I had done and I especially didn’t expect to find myself at St James' Palace. It was surreal.

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When I entered the palace with my mum, we were both amazed by the beauty of it - the design and the ‘royal feeling’ we got.

They called us in to the Throne Room to meet Prince William and Prince Harry. The moment they entered the room, my face stopped functioning. My smile was near my ears, my eyes were wide open and I reckon that my brain stopped processing altogether!

Prince Harry was the first to come to our group. He shook each person’s hand. I was shaking on the inside and just trying to look calm on the outside. He asked me my name which was cool.

Then Prince William came to my group. He asked me about my work and he listened carefully. I was very shy and nervous, probably stuttered a bit while talking! He asked me where I am from. That was so cool for me because I got the chance to tell him where I am originally from. 

Receiving my award

The unbelievable truth. William and Harry were only one seat away from me.

My name was going to be associated with Princess Diana forever

My name was next. My heart was beating faster than a formula one race car. Then they called my name to go on stage.

Two steps up, and there I was, walking towards Prince William and Prince Harry. Everyone was looking at me - looking, smiling and clapping.

This wasn’t just a normal award. My name was going to be associated with Princess Diana because I was doing something that she would have supported. I had flashes of the hard times I have lived through before. It is true that, somehow, some struggles must be felt. But taking them as a lesson or experience, it feels better to treat them that way.

I took a certificate from Prince Harry and we had some chatter while we were shaking hands. Prince William told me a few supportive things, as he handed me my award, which I will keep in my mind forever. 

What next?

I know that my journey has just started. Being ambitious isn’t something bad. It’s something you must have if you want to shine. Being hopeful won’t do you any harm, it gives you goals and a reason to carry on. 

‘Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you’ – Princess Diana

I needed someone to help me when I first came to the UK, but now I want to be that someone to others. I want to be that someone who can comfort and show others in need that there will always be an alternative path.

Perhaps they might do the same later - give help and inspire people.

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