Imran Mirza has been on Jacari’s board of trustees since 2017 and is our outgoing Chair. Imran provides a unique and valuable perspective to Jacari as he himself was tutored by a Jacari volunteer when he was a child growing up in Oxford.
Imran received tuition from a Jacari volunteer in 1982 when he was 6 years old. English was Imran’s second language - he spoke Punjabi as his first language at home. He mainly needed support with building confidence in reading in English. His older sister was originally allocated a Jacari tutor, who ended up also tutoring Imran. Their tutor was called Helen and she was studying music at Oxford University. Imran remembers tremendously looking forward to every session with Helen and the feeling of excitement about what he was learning.
Developing a love of literature and the arts
During his sessions with Helen, Imran remembers that they did lots of reading together. He particularly remembers reading Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne and being fascinated by the adventure.
Helen was a music student and played the flute and introduced Imran to classical music. He recalls her playing Für Elise for him and his sister on her flute and it having a huge impact on him. In fact, after that he asked Helen to play at every tutoring session! Für Elise remains one of his favourite pieces and listening to it still reminds him of Helen.
He also remembers reading his first play with Helen. This early exposure to drama may have inspired Imran to later take up acting and work in the theatre. He felt he wouldn’t have had access to texts like that otherwise, as they weren’t taught at school or something his parents would have read with him.
Awakening a curiosity about Oxford
Helen sometimes took Imran and his sister on outings in Oxford. One day they went up the tower of The University Church of St Mary the Virgin. It was his first time viewing Oxford from this angle and seeing the University world surrounding the tower. It sparked his curiosity about the place. In fact, when Imran was a teenager he started visiting Colleges and spending time reading in the quads and he links this back to his experience being tutored by an Oxford student. He even remembers students coming to chat to him and discussing what he was reading with them and how this expanded his knowledge. He believes that this wasn’t something he would have done if it weren’t for Helen introducing him to this world.
The impact of Jacari tutoring
Growing up in an immigrant community, and having experienced cultural conservatism, the tutoring he received from Helen opened up something that enabled him access to the arts and develop a love literature, drama and music. Helen introduced him to the beauty of stories and imagination. Experiencing this at a young, formative age also gave him the skills to think more widely about things.
It also triggered in him a pursuit of knowledge. Although it wasn’t necessarily the main reason he went on to further education, he felt it helped him to expand his horizons. He studied science at University but always read more widely and had a strong sense of curiosity.
His experience being tutored by a Jacari volunteer made him recognise the inequitable access to knowledge that existed in our society. This led to a lifelong passion for social activism and campaigning.
A career supporting young people
Imran went on to have a career that involved supporting young people into education and social research for the Government on equality and inclusion. He definitely attributes this to the influence of having a Jacari tutor at an early age. He has worked and volunteered for various charities and projects aimed at young people. He now works for the Oxford-based charity One-Eighty supporting young people who are disengaged from their education system through therapeutic interventions.
A love of theatre
In 2010, Imran also took a new career direction and trained as an actor and since then has been involved in theatre, including running an acting and improv group called Awkward Actors. He thinks that his tutoring sessions with Helen inspired this interest at an early age.
The journey back to Jacari
While working as an actor, Imran took a part-time waitering job at Oxford’s Turl Street Kitchen. It was here that he reconnected with Jacari as we had our office above the restaurant. He got chatting with Jacari’s Coordinator at the time and decided to join the Board of Trustees, eventually becoming Jacari’s Chair. His contribution and experience are greatly valued by Jacari - it was the first time we had someone who has the perspective of being a Jacari pupil involved in running our organisation.