Search for courses or information

General news

Belong, Believe, Achieve: Life story of Refugee Studies postgraduate to be made into opera

Student Hub

Newham Music to produce opera based on the life of Jonathan Lofulo, to be performed by hundreds of local young people

Belong, Believe Achieve is a series of profiles showcasing inspiring students and staff at the University of East London. Each week, we bring you a new story about someone in our amazing community.

This week we are shining the spotlight on Refugee Studies postgraduate Jonathan Lofulo, who also earned a first-class Education Studies degree from UEL in 2016. Jonathan's incredible life story is currently being turned into an opera which will be performed by Newham schoolchildren in July 2018.

Work has started on an exciting new project that brings Newham young people together to create an original opera based on the life story of University of East London (UEL) student Jonathan Lofulo.

Under the guidance of Newham Music, pupils from five local schools are collaborating with composers who have worked at the Royal Opera House to develop a production inspired by Jonathan's extraordinary life.

The 29-year-old moved to the UK as a child refugee and spent time in prison before turning his life around and enrolling at UEL. He graduated in 2016 with a first-class degree.

Jonathan said, “I have no high expectations of trying to change the world. But if I can reach out to at least one person and say, ‘Here’s my story’ and have them respond with ‘This guy, why don’t I see if I can follow the same path as him?’ – if I’m able to achieve that, I’d be really happy.”

Work on the opera will begin in the New Year, with performances scheduled for 10 July at the Newham Music Festival of Youth. More than 250 children, from Lister, Rokeby, Sarah Bonnell, Upton Cross and Portway schools, as well as their family members, will ultimately participate in some way.

Jonathan’s eventful life includes fleeing the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo as a child and being raised by his older brother in east London.

An athletic youngster, he trained with both Arsenal and West Ham football academies but was easily distracted and failed to capitalise on the opportunities. He eventually fell in with the wrong crowd and ended up in prison for burglary. 

While behind bars, Jonathan decided to turn his life around. Following his release, he enrolled at UEL and, through hard work and determination, earned a first-class degree in Education Studies in 2016.   

He is now back at UEL studying for a master’s degree in Refugee Studies and hopes to work with troubled teenagers. 

Over the past month he has attended several opera development sessions to talk to pupils from the local schools and impart some understanding of his life.

On a recent afternoon at Lister, Jonathan held his audience of 30 pupils enthralled as he recounted his experiences and answered questions ranging from what his life was like in prison to why he had a scar on his face.

Jonathan said, “Speaking to the kids is a chance for me to highlight the importance of being educated. I’m able to reach out to these children and share my experience with them – and learn from them as well. 

Newham Music CEO John Bergin said, “Drawing inspiration from Jonathan Lofulo, our young people will create music to celebrate opportunity and the rich cultural diversity of Newham. We hope that this unique project will inspire our young people to share their experiences and explore the musical world around them.”