Saturday, 31 May 2008

Unsung heroines (3)

When Salome Mbugua first arrived in southern Ireland in 1994 from Africa, she got a friendly welcome as black people were rare. But when she came back four years later people were more hostile.
There were a lot more immigrants and she was told "Go home, nigger." She met other black women who were meeting similar prejudice and having trouble finding suitable jobs.

With the support of Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic religious order, she set up AkiDwa, the African Women's Network, to provide support for black women and find out what their needs were.

Now the network, which expanded to help other women arriving from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Romania, has 2075 members and five permanent groups and is transforming the lives of previously marginalised newcomers.

They have had problems with racism, vandalism, domestic violence and even people saying they shouldn't have children. Around 60 per cent of them have had to take jobs that didn't match their skills. Overseas qualifications were often not recognised in the Republic.

AkiDwa advises them on how to improve their employment prospects and how to deal with discrimination, domestic violence and other problems that are holding them back.

Salome, a qualified social worker with a Master's degree from University College Dublin, originally wanted to work with the United Nations but now says she is too passionate about her work with AkiDwa to consider anything else. It has become her big mission and has been a much needed lifeline for thousands of vulnerable and victimised women.
NB: I can't give a link to the recent Irish Times article as it's subscription-only. But here's another piece from the Irish Independent.
See also: Unsung heroines 1: Gareth Peirce
Unsung heroines 2: Camila Batmanghelidjh


  1. that's a lovely piece, Nick, well done to that lady - it's fabulous to read about positive role models especially for us women:)

  2. BB - Isn't she exactly that, a positive role model who shows you don't have to just passively submit to injustice.

  3. it's a shame that Ireland and the Irish who were the benefactors of hospitality as they roamed the earth in search of a better life have become so racist and anti immigrant - fair play to this woman!

  4. I must try and find the Irish Times piece Nick as I have a subscription.
    I've observed this racism and in-yer-face hostility in Ireland. I have several nieces/nephews who are adopted from other countries and the personal questions asked in front of them boggle my mind. As if their feelings don't count.
    What a wonderfully gutsy woman to be part of the solution. In a lot of cases I think it is downright ignorance and of course the fear of the unknown.
    I'm glad you write about such matters, Nick.

  5. Quicky - Absolutely, that contradiction is so glaring. They expect other countries to welcome them but they don't want any foreigners in their own country.

    www - It was in the IT magazine last Saturday. Yes, will people ever bury the idea that if you have a different skin colour you're some sort of contaminating alien? I agree, ignorance and fear of the unknown is a major ingredient of prejudice.

  6. Couldn't agree more with Quickroute about immigrants holding bias against other immigrants although fortunately, we have yet to catch up with the world in terms of rife racism (it does exist here tho). A planned islamic school on the outskirts of Sydney has just been refused by Camden council . . they swear not on racist grounds yet the objection by locals to the school was loud and clear. No such objection to Anglican or Catholic schools in the area!

    We in Oz often forget that we are recent occupiers of this nation.

    She sounds inspirational and I love that you pay tribute to these people I've never before heard about.

  7. Baino - I recall the racial brawls at La Perouse some time back, which gave Sydney and Oz such an ugly image at the time the government had to take tough action. I read about the rejection of the Islamic school in Sydney as well, on very dubious 'planning' grounds. Racism is never far below the civilised veneer.

  8. Women are still disadvantaged in every society, and black women most of all.

    It's always wonderful to hear of a woman who sees a need and fills it, who uses her talents and education to help others. She is a true Bodhisattva.

  9. Heart - She is indeed a Bodhisattva. For those non-Buddhists out there, a Bodhisattva is someone who refrains from entering nirvana (the state of enlightenment) in order to save others who are still suffering and not yet enlightened.

  10. It's always an inspiration when someone takes a hardship and uses it for good. Bravo to her.

    This makes me a bit sad, as well. Ireland is at the top of my list of places I haven't seen but really want to. Friends who've been talk non-stop about how beautiful it is and I can't imagine how its citizens could dampen that beauty with such ugly behavior. But there are always a handful of people who can't see beyond your exterior.

  11. Nicole - Ireland's very beautiful so don't let the bigots put you off. Hopefully things are gradually improving as people get more used to the idea of diversity and people moving around the globe.

  12. Wow Nick, what a woman. I would love to meet her, she sounds so gutsy and determined.

  13. Hulla - Doesn't she just? She totally refused to accept the prejudice and tackled it head-on. Such astounding self-confidence and single-mindedness.

  14. I volunteered for SARI while in Dublin. It stands for Sports Against Racism Ireland. I helped them with their Integration Through Sports projects in primary and secondary school. I taught lessons in the classrooms and discussed with the students the concept of racism, integration, tolerance (I am not a big fan of the word "tolerance" but it was part of the project so I still did it)... I have found myself smack in the middle of the problems that you have written in your post. At schools kids when young, have no problems with it. Young kids are so welcoming and it is very easy for them to cross language barriers, cultural and religious differences. THey don't care, they just want to have fun. As they get older, I realized the high school kids indeed encountered racism related problems. The name calling, the embarrasing comments, you name it. Of course take this one level up and moving to a country as an adult let alone a student, it is much tougher.
    It is wonderful work that this lady is doing, I will have to join the organization if / when I go back to Ireland and help them out.
    I think Canada was one multi-cultural country I found such problems were minimum compared to many other countries. I don't know if it has changed in the last 10 years, when I was living there as a student exchange I saw none of the racism and discrimination I have seen in some other countries.
    Cheers for another great post.
    (PS: sorry i have not commented much lately but I did catch up with reading all of your previous posts that I missed while being offline.)

  15. GayƩ - I think that's true, young kids just haven't acquired all these prejudices, they quite happily make friends with anyone and enjoy the differences. Then as they get older the social brainwashing starts to take root.

    From what I've heard, you're right about Canada. Certainly when I was in Toronto a few years back, the huge immigrant community seemed to be accepted with little difficulty.