09/10/2017 05:12 BST | Updated 09/10/2017 05:12 BST

My Baby Makes Me Stronger Because He Must Have A Future

Caroline Irby

Photographed in a hospital in south London, which has asked to remain anonymous

Dream job: nurse

I lived in Abidjan with my dad, my sister and my little brother. My mother had left when I was very young, but we had a normal childhood, going to school and all. Then, when I was 12 and my sister 14, my dad took us to London to escape female circumcision. We stayed with one of his friends in Croydon and went to the mosque. After prayers, we didn't see him at the door. We sat there and waited. After many hours, a lady approached us, but we spoke only French. She took us to her home and the next day brought us to the police, then to the Home Office where we were told to apply for asylum.

I was in shock. I couldn't understand why our father had left us. I cried every night. We went in foster care on the same day. The lady was very strict and it didn't work, so I was separated from my sister and put with an emergency family, then in a children's home. I was 13 - the only girl there. It was violent, very intimidating. No one was looking after me, but a boy there taught me to speak English. Three months later, I started year eight in a girls' school in Croydon. I was bullied at first because of my accent and because my name is "Bamba", but eventually I made friends.

I stayed for six months in the children's home, then went to live with my sister in another foster family. The lady was very caring, cooked for us and made us feel comfortable. She was like a mother to me. It was the only time I was happy. But she got other children and we had to leave. We stayed in different foster families and my sister and I grew apart. At 16, I moved to a semi-independent place with three other girls.

At 18, I got moved to a hostel with two boys, then I got pregnant and was given this basement flat. Mark, my baby is now 13 months old. I get along with his father, but he is French and lives in France most of the time. My son is French, but I have no status. I was considered an unaccompanied minor, but at 18, was supposed to apply for an extension, but didn't receive the letter, so my status expired. I tried to get a solicitor, but I have no money. I receive £45 a week from the Home Office and my son £20, but I cannot work.

My baby makes me stronger because he needs to have a future, but my life would have been better if I had stayed in Africa. I wouldn't have suffered that much. I am confused and unhappy most of the time. I stopped going to school after I had my baby. Now I just stay at home, alone, doing nothing. I have no money, no friends and no one to turn to. The most painful is not working and having people think that I don't want to work, that I just want to sit here and take benefits.

But Young Roots (a charity for young refugees) has helped me enroll in a sixth form college in Croydon to study for an extended diploma in Social Care. They have childcare there, so I will start soon. Then I'll feel a sense of accomplishment in my life. My dream job is to be a nurse because I enjoy people and caring for them and listening to them.

Through portraits and interviews, photographer Caroline Irby and journalist Veronique Mistiaen have recorded the journeys of ten young refugees who arrived in the UK as minors and are now coming of age. They talk about the lives they have left behind, the challenges they face in the UK as well as their hopes and dreams for the future in the context of their dream jobs.

The portraits and interviews are part of an exhibition, Claiming a New Place on Earth, which was curated by London based refugee charity Breaking Barriers, who offer a unique approach to helping refugees in London find meaningful employment. They have recently become the largest employment service for refugees in the UK, working closely with corporate partners to support over 200 refugees in the past year. The exhibition opens tomorrow at Protein Studios in Shoreditch and will run for the week (10th-15th Oct).