A MOTHER of three, living in a Direct Provision Centre on the border of Clare and Limerick, has been awarded the 2017 Clare Woman of the Year award by the Soroptimist International Ennis and District Club.
Donnah Vuma, who is from Zimbabwe, has lived in Knockalisheen with her young family for more than three years, while she waits for her asylum application to be processed.
In the centre, there are over 200 people, including families and single men. In 2009, a report by the University of Limerick’s Centre for Peace and Development Studies deemed the centre only suitable as a short-term solution. However, nearly 10 years later, 226 people continue to reside there.
Donnah had hoped for a better future when she arrived in Ireland but, instead, found that she was unable to work. Rather than succumb to the very difficult economic and institutional life in the centre, with no freedom or choice over food choices or meal times, Donnah has reached out in many ways within her community. In doing so, she has enriched her own family’s life but has also given hope to other families that the community is willing to help them in their current state of limbo.
Donnah has raised awareness about the psychological and mental health effects of those living in enforced idleness, as well as linking up with Reverend Vicki Lynch in the Methodist Church in Limerick. Together, they came up with a project called Now We’re Cooking, which allows people to prepare and cook their own meals.
In the kitchen, they have created a safe space to cook for their families in what was formerly a disused kitchen. The project was supported by a local business family, who generously donated to help purchase kitchen utensils and get equipment serviced to safety standards. Some of the residents from Knockalisheen have also received HACCP training so they can safely use the kitchen. To date, many events have been held in the kitchen, including cookery classes for children living in the centre and a Christmas lunch event.
In September last year, Donnah was one of 17 people accepted on to the Place of Sanctuary scholarship programme at UL and she is currently on an access programme in the university.
The Ennis and District Soroptimists club became aware last year that there was a Direct Provision Centre in County Clare and, at a meeting with Donnah, she outlined her daily routine and the circumstances of living there. They felt they had to act.
While the club has raised funds that have gone toward essential grocery items and personal toiletries and vouchers at Christmas time, members felt it was just as important to advocate on behalf of the families and single men living there. The club members hope that they and other groups will reach out in friendship to the residents in Knockalisheen.
Donnah is the third recipient of the esteemed Clare Woman of the Year award and joins a very special group of women, which includes Mary Heuson from Sláinte an Chláir and Susan Hogan from Caring for Carers. All three have made outstanding contributions to their respective communities and raised awareness about people living in difficult circumstances.
Club president Pamela Clancy said the club wished to recognise Donnah’s contribution as a woman in Ireland living in very trying conditions. She said the good and positive work Donnah was doing was inspiring others and that Ennis and District Soroptimists would continue to follow her progress.
When presented with the award, Donnah was surprised but delighted and said that, at a practical level, the goods that had been donated had helped them all a lot. More importantly, however, she said, it meant so much to her and to the residents of Knockalisheen to know that people outside the camp were thinking of them.
By Jessica Quinn