Owodunni came to Ireland in 2014 from Nigeria. A mum of 3, she left her country wanting to give her children a safe, healthy space to grow up in.
8 years after arriving here, Owodunni and her 3 children are still waiting for their international protection applications to be approved. The family lives in direct provision, in a small town in Co. Mayo.
Despite this experience not being what she had envisaged, Owodunni still speaks highly of life in Ireland:
“Life in Ireland has been awesome. I have had countless opportunities that I would not have been able to avail of back home. I love the people, I love the ambience.”
Owodunni has been busy the last few years while waiting for residency, founding the Ballyhaunis Inclusion Project as a support group for asylum seekers and people from ethnic minority background.
Her work led to her being honoured with the Christine Buckley volunteer of the year award in 2019, and then again in 2020 for the volunteer of the year award in the small groups’ category.
When she’s not volunteering, she’s studying and working:
“I am currently studying for a second degree in Business Enterprise and Community Development, also rounding up a master’s degree in Gender, Globalization and Rights at NUIGalway and I work as a care worker.”
For Owodunni, her experience in direct provision, the international protection system and living in rural Co. Mayo has helped shape the kind of change she would like to someday bring about by becoming involved in politics:
“As an asylum seeker, I often refer to people like myself as being at the bottom of the ladder due to the barriers we are faced with. From the endless wait for residency, to access to labour market that limits us to certain sector and barriers in accessing education, my experience would be different from those who have permission to live and work in Ireland.
“For those in the rural areas, there is limited job access, they have to choose between paying huge rent and getting a good job in the city or move to the rural areas and take up precarious jobs.”
She also cites racism and educational discrimination as massive barriers facing migrants in Ireland today, as well as the limited access afforded to migrant professionals to progress their careers, especially in the healthcare sector.
What does she want to do about it? Run for politics and bring about the needed change:
“As a public office holder the duty is to serve the people. If I get elected, I will first harness the skills of migrants that is currently being underutilised.
“I will ensure that distribution of resources and access to services takes the bottom-up approach.
“Rural areas have been left out in terms of development. I will ensure that rural development is prioritised, concentration of opportunities in the cities has done more harm to the rural areas than good.
“I would like to see more women in the workforce, to ensure this, a public approach to childcare services needs to be put in place, I will advocate for that.”