Content University of Limerick

UL Links – Sanctuary Scholarship Interview

Donnah Vuma believes that until she gets her full refugee status can she make a lasting and valuable contribution to Irish society. But the reality is that Vuma has made far more of an impact than she realises.

Currently living in Direct Provision, Vuma travelled to Ireland from Zimbabwe in 2014. She still awaits a decision regarding her application for asylum.   

A single mother with three young children 13, 9, and 7, Vuma has experienced many difficulties from financial strain to societal stigmas but instead of resting on her laurels, Vuma has worked hard to seek solutions and inspire hope in her community.

In August 2017, Vuma set up Every Child is Your Child, a community group that aims to improve the lives of children living in direction provision. Living on a weekly allowance of €21.60 without the right to work and no entitlement to any other social welfare benefits is extremely difficult for parents, says Vuma.

 “We understand that it is a huge burden. We believe that all children deserve the chance to live full and happy lives and we want to help them do just that.”

A major part of Vuma’s work as founder of Every Child is Your Child is to raise awareness about Direct Provision and she does so at every opportunity she can.

“I try to do as much public speaking. I’ve found that it inspires other people in the centre. It gives them that courage to speak out.”

Vuma has become a beacon of hope and empowerment for her community; her upbeat attitude shines through everything she does.

“We’re not trying to burden people. I feel like we shouldn’t play the victim. Instead, we should try to find temporary solutions that we can use to empower ourselves in DP but also raise awareness and get people involved in the campaigns without making them feel bad about the situation.”

Education expenses can be costly, says Vuma and it’s imperative that children in Direct Provision don’t stand out amongst their peers. In 2016, with the help of her team at ECIYC, she organised a fundraiser dinner at Thomond park to establish a back to school fund. The funds raised assisted 43 children living in a direct provision centre in Limerick at the beginning of the school term in September 2017.

“The stress of having to meet the back to school requirements were reduced for parents and it allowed the child to concentrate on being a “normal child” and fully focus on their studies.”

In September 2016, the word was spreading about Vuma’s initiative and she was approached by Grainne Hassett, a practising architect, Senior Lecturer and member of  the Advisory Board at the new School of Architecture, University of Limerick (SAUL). Thenceforth, began a long-term relationship with UL, one which Vuma hopes to continue on for another four years.

“Grainne had just come back from volunteering in Calais. She wanted to do something with her first year students so that they could have an experience that took them out of their comfort zone.”

The architecture students were making tables as part of their first year project. Vuma and Hassett were talking about how people in DP weren’t allowed to cook for themselves and thus the idea for a community kitchen was born.

“What if they made those tables and then we found a space where people in DP could cook and people could serve a meal on those tables?”

Vuma was keen to teach her children how to prepare meals in the traditional Zimbabwean cuisine. But it wasn’t just about the food.

We wanted to bring together two groups of people who wouldn’t meet under normal circumstances.  A lot of people don’t know about DP and there are stigmas that are associated with the stereotypes of asylum seekers. This was about breaking down those boundaries and to start making connections.”

The support came rushing in. Christ Church in Limerick offered a space to host a meal and Sarah and Ian Malone, owners of Zest Cafe brought practical and financial support.

A member of the women’s friendship and service organisation, Soroptimism International, Malone donated money to buy  kitchen utensils, dinnerware and a new fridge and freezer.

Vuma and six others from her centre will prepare a meal on Christmas Day with traditional cuisine from Zimbabwe, Syria, Malawi, Palestine and Nigeria. She’s hoping with impending food safety training, this community kitchen will become a regular occurrence.

As well as being an incredible asset to her community, Vuma has gone back to education. Ever the activist, Vuma wanted to empower herself.

“To come here and to have to sit and be idle – that’s the worst thing. You don’t even know when all this is going to end.”

She applied and was accepted to the mature student’s access course in UL.

“I thought if I do get accepted, I’ll try and find a sponsor to pay my fees.”

It just so happened that she was awarded the University of Sanctuary scholarship,  an initiative designed to welcoming and integrating asylum seekers and refugees into the university community.

She started her course in September 2017 studying sociology, politics, history and English literature. Vuma describes it as a “test drive” that has only cemented her determination to study psychology and sociology to degree level at the end of the term.

Everything in society is a construct, says Vuma and she immensely enjoys studying the sociology behind this.

I really enjoyed learning about inequalities in society; how the education system influences and plays a big role in society’s inequalities.

Something she really related to was the gender issue.

“Stereotypes confine us as human beings. As woman, we’re expected to stay at home and rear the children, not to have our own hopes and dreams. Here, I’m trying to be a role model to my kids to show them that you don’t have to be limited by what society expects of you. You can go out there and be a doctor. You can be the CEO of a company.You don’t have to fit into that role that has been defined and said this is who you’re supposed to be.”

As a mother of two girls and a boy, Vuma says she is having to challenge herself as she learns.

I’ve had to look at how gender stereotypes also confine men. I see it with my son. I start to box him into categories. You have to play soccer, you can’t play with dolls, you have to be on the Xbox.”

What does the future hold for Vuma?

I’m really hopeful because there is such an interest in getting involved. People are telling other people about it. I’m just hoping (crossing fingers and toes) that I get my status soon because right now, there are so many limitations around what I can do. I’ve made a lot of friends and I’ve learned a lot of things.” 

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