Life in Ireland has been challenge for two former Sligo residents who have been awarded the prestigious Gaisce President’s Award.
The award which confers medals on people aged between 15 and 25 for a number of challenges including, community involvement, personal skills, physical recreation and adventure journeys.
Sisters Tracey (20) and Trish (19) Sefu arrived in Ireland in 2014 after fleeing the Mugabe regime with their mother and four younger siblings. Settling for a while in Globe House in Sligo before moving to Dublin, the family shared a single room, with the sisters sleeping in one bed, and their three siblings sharing a bed with their mother.
In Africa, they’d gone to an exclusive boarding school. “Back in my country, I never knew Ireland existed until the day I got here,” admits Trish.
Like most young women, the sisters love make-up and fashion, often spending their €21.60 allowance on cosmetics, phone credit and whatever clothes or shoes they can afford. But they have ambitions too – Tracey dreams of owning her own accountancy firm one day. “I’d love to live in Swords, as they have nice houses,” she admits. “For college, I’d love to go to Sligo IT or maybe NCI.”
The two girls flourished in school here, yet while their classmates headed for college without a backward glance, the girls found that, despite getting good marks, their opportunities for further study were much more limited.
“It was a challenge,” admits Tracey. “The history and geography were hard to cope with as it was all about Ireland and Europe.” Trish, meanwhile, found school in Drogheda “amazing”. “I knew that if I got something wrong, I would not get a beating like I would in Zimbabwe,” she recalls. “You just get corrected, so I was more open to saying things.”
Tracey went on to do an accountancy PLC, but there are restrictions on asylum seekers who hope to access third-level education – they are required to pay non-EU student fees of several thousand euro. After leaving school, the two girls were soon at a loss on how to fill their days.
“I applied for 360 jobs and I got one interview,” recalls Trish. “They accepted me, but I couldn’t do the job because I didn’t have the green card. People here do a lot of charity work to fill their days, but that would only motivate me for so long.”
They learned of the Gaisce President’s Award earlier this year and after completing each challenge, both girls – along with 10 other residents in direct provision from areas as diverse as Kosovo, Kurdistan and the Congo – received their Bronze awards from Michael D Higgins earlier this week. For the young people involved, it’s a way of bolstering one’s CV and prospects while living in bureaucratic limbo.
“I was kind of bored, but I did also want to meet the President,” admits Trish with a laugh. “Usually, it was just me grabbing toast (from the common area cafeteria) and going back to my room. When you’re here, you want to fill your day.”