Direct Provision- In Conversation in Lucky Khambule

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I came here from South Africa in January 2013 seeking Asylum, I had political differences with the rulers in my province and I had to go into hiding in a church for three weeks in December 2012. I had no choice but to come to Ireland and all I knew about Ireland was the soccer team and when Roy Keane walked away from the national team during a World Cup.

When I arrived in Ireland and sought asylum I was sent to a reception centre in Finglas for three months while my application was being screened and accepted.

“An element of fear was being instilled from the first point of contact with the centre.”

I was then transferred to one of the 34 asylum centres in Ireland, mine was in Cork on the Kinsale Rd and I stayed there for my entire time in direct provision. When we arrived at the centre we were brought into orientation, we were handed a house rule told to go and read it. We were told we could not cook, could not bring food to our rooms, we had to report and sign in everyday, if not our bed would be affected and if we did not comply with this would affect our case.  I looked at this as intimidation and an element of fear was being instilled from the first point of contact with the centre.

As time progressed in the centre it became clear that the residents were being treated with disrespect and intimidation. The staff members were bullies and treated especially the women and children with disdain.  The staff spoke in a very de- humanising way to the residents, they made you feel small. It was an effective form of control by the staff that had proved successful over the years.

          We had enough things had to change”

A small group of us initially decided we had enough and we came together to discuss what we can do to change this treatment and address the issues.  We wrote down all the concerns people and after a few meetings we called a big meeting of everyone in the centre over 200 people came.

We analysed why people failed to get these issues addressed in the past. The management had been informed before the people presented the issues themselves. The only way they would be taken seriously was if the residents went on strike.  Only a small group knew when the strike would begin and these people were put in certain places to carry out signs and then the rest of the residents knew the strike was to begin.

We elected two people to meet with the staff, they politely informed them, we the residents are now taking over the centre and it is time for you to leave. Please carry out your protocols for this type of situation but we the people are taking over.  We remained polite calm and smiled at all times, we always remained in control. We did not make it personal this was about the barbaric system not the staff. So they left and we had control of the centre.

The following morning everyone got up early and we went to the gate of the centre.  We decided the children will stay home from school for that day as this was their movement also. We waited at the gate for the day staff to arrive, we had a barrier covering the entrance, the staff came and then the manager came. His attitude was very aggressive towards us like a bull and trying to force himself through the crowed and he tried to incite the crowd but we were all prepared for this.

So we peacefully stood and blocked his entrance, one of our demands was for him to go from the centre.  He then approached the Gardai at the scene we had already given the Gardai our demands when they first arrived and we chatted to them explaining what we are doing and these are our problems.  The Garda asked the manager was he going to resolve the problems for these people and said no and the Gardaí said they could not assist him they have nothing to do here and they left shortly after the manager left also.

“We refused to back down until we were listened too”

We held our strike for ten days; we got massive support from the local people with donations of food. The Dept of Justice came condemning the strike and demanding we stand down.  We stood firm and said when you realise our demands and want to negotiate we will talk to you but we are not standing down.

Prior to enacting the strike, we said all agreements were to be in writing nothing less. The first battle was the manager and our demand was he leaves permanently, we said in our negotiations we were not budging on this demand.  if the department is  afraid of firing him because of labour court rules we understand the procedures and he can be suspended upon investigation . The manager never returned.

We were aware that the authorities would target organisers and send them to another centre to break the unity of the people. Another demand was that no body from this centre will be forcibly removed because of this action; the Dept gave this in writing.

On day nine we demanded the authorities draw up the agreement with a timeline of when all agreements would be put in place. We told them the people would have to meet to discuss and vote on this agreement and on whether the strike will continue or be suspended.

On day 10 we told them we will suspend the strike once the agreement is enacted, we said the strike was not ended only suspended so the authorities know we can start it again straight away if they broke any of the written agreements.

So we let the staff back into the centre, they were nervous because of the abuse they perpetrated on the people living in the centre.  We told the staff you have nothing to fear from us, we are fighting the system not you, we know that management were abusing you also and this was passed all the way down so it’s the fault of management and the system.

One of our demands was availability of transport for the children to get to school every day, before there was no bus and a bus was provided.  Another demand was the overcrowding in the bedrooms this was also reduced from three adults in a small room to two adults and also an audit of who lives in each room.  Prior to this people from different countries with no common language or back ground were sharing and it caused tension.

” Now we had a voice and know body spoke on our behalf”

We asked for the staff and management to work with us, we began having monthly meetings to discuss issues and the needs of the people.  There was no play room for the children, it was put in place we got donations of toys TVs and play stations; we got a gym as this addressed the inactivity and health of the residents.

We got a TV with digital stations, we got the internet and computers this enabled people to Skype their families as prior to this people had to use their allowance of 19.10 euro per week to pay for phone cards to call the other side of the world. These small things made a huge difference to people’s lives.

Now we had a voice, we were speaking as a group of residents, it gave us confidence and we felt we regained a little of our autonomy. Prior to this an NGO spoke on our behalf making agreements with management not consulting the residents properly and understanding what the residents needed.

After this NGO’s did not represent us in the Cork center, We then formed our own group called KRAC it then escalated to a more national group called MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) we wanted people to realise if people stand together they can have a voice and enact positive changemasi

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Not Cherishing all the Children Equally

Over half a million people live in one parent families in Ireland according to the 2011 census. Those living in lone parent households continue to experience the highest rates of deprivation with almost 60% of individuals from these households experiencing one or more forms of deprivation.

According to One Family; lone parents and their children are four times more likely to be in consistent poverty than families consisting of two parents.  The majority of those families are being lone parented by women. This article would like to look behind statistics, policies and cut backs too discover the reality in Irish society today for women trying to rear a family in many cases against all the odds.

Meet Melissa and Sienna, they live in transitional housing so are effectively homeless, Melissa has returned education to get a degree in Social Care while Sienna goes to crèche. Melissa is constantly under pressure to move on from her transitional house as it has a time limit of how long a family can stay, she is trying to find a rented place to live but is finding it hard because of the housing crisis. Their close family live over 200 miles away so day to day they rely on each other for support.This is the average week for this family.

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Monday:

5.30am up with the baby to get ready. Bus at 7am Sienna has been crying from the moment she woke up. She is tired and resisting everything getting dressed, wants to be up in my arms. I feel guilty looking at her and contemplate getting back into bed with her. She ended up crying the whole way into town. Because her crèche is out of the way I have to allow 45 minutes to an hour to walk down to the crèche and back up to school.  I’m stressed reaching college and can feel a headache coming on.

First class back after Christmas and get good results back from essay so I am delighted and feel more able as I often have self- doubt around whether I am able for the course and the amount of work given along with the stress of minding a child on top. This is a much needed boost and makes my day.

Tuesday:

Get up at 7.30pm to get baby and myself ready for school. The extra two hours in the morning make it a little easier with Sienna however she wants to stay and play with the other kids and I have a little struggle getting her to leave. It is a long day today and I do not finish until 6 I am tired by the time classes finish and have to rush down to collect the baby before the crèche closes at 6.30. As Sienna does not like the bus, we have our usual struggle and I try to placate her with watching frozen or Peppa pig on my phone. We reach home at 7.30 where I cook some dinner put sienna into a bath and then into bed. By the time I finish this, it is 9pm and I am ready for bed myself. Once I have finished my homework it is 11.00pm.

Wednesday:

Did not sleep very well last night due to worrying about housing issues and have to drag myself out of the bed at 6.30. I leave sienna sleep on and grab a shower before sorting clothes and breakfast/lunches. I am in work placement today and experience a bit of anxiety around this so am a little stressed. I drop sienna to crèche for 9 and head to placement. I finish at 3.30 pm and head to collect herself. Get home for 5pm. Cook dinner and do a bit of cleaning around the house. I put sienna to bed after her bath at 7.30. I have an assignment to do so i try to get a bit done but I find this difficult as I am sharing a house and to do work I have to stay in the same room as sienna is sleeping. I can only do a small bit before she starts stirring and I finish feeling pissed off and anxious about getting my work in on time.

Thursday:

I set the alarm for 5.30 but am wrecked and sleep in until 6.10. I am in a rush to get ready and for the second time this week debate taking the day off to spend with my daughter but I don’t want to fall behind in lectures or work so I fly around grabbing everything. I wake sienna up and get her dressed quickly. She is grumpy and tired and doesn’t know what she wants. As  I run for the bus in the lashing rain I have to keep reminding myself that I am doing this course to not only better my chances in gaining employment but to be a good role model for my daughter and that one day it will pay off.

Friday:

My alarm goes off at 5.30 and I am so tired I set it again for 6. I stayed up late to study for a test and woke sienna up around 11. She then decided it was playtime and it took me until 2am to get her back to sleep again. We are both wrecked travelling into town. On the plus side she is so tired she falls asleep on the bus giving me a stress free journey but I am late and have to rush to get to college on time for the test. I am finished early today so I leave Sienna in crèche for a couple of hours and go home to rest for a while. I then go in to collect her around 5 and we go into town for a bite to eat. We get home 7pm and after I bathe Sienna I put her to bed for 8pm.

 

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I spoke to members of a grassroots organisation called SPARK  through their Facebook page which has over 2,700 members, this page is used as a support system for single parents, people can ask for advice around social welfare payments, housing, access and representing themselves in court for maintenance. It is also a safe space for emotional support for those who need it and want to share.  I asked members to comment or share their experience of lone parenting, the general day to day struggle of trying to get by the rewards of lone parenting and also what would make their lives easier.

Lorraine said: “Hardest thing is waking up in the morning knowing I’ve  four kids, three with special needs, to prepare for their day ahead and how it’ll be my words or gestures that may influence their day … then get to work, complete an overdue assignment for college, tend to one of the kids many appointments ….then I remember the daily wind down in the evening full of hugs and chats about their day and I smile knowing I’ve done it alone and I’ve not allowed myself become a statistic for the sake of my family !”

Nat commented:  “What I find really tough is the isolation. Since I’m a mother I haven’t been in any social event that isn’t specifically designed for families or kids. My almost 4 yr old is not welcome to any activity as a friend kindly told me when she was given a party at her place “I’m not banning children but I don’t encourage it either “.

Maggie expressed; “Being on rent allowance and in college is a struggle not being able to access grants or hold onto earnings and increasing your child’s hardship in the short term while hoping for benefits in the long term is tough. Also not having a secure home has meant moving in the middle of college and falling far behind. Not being able to achieve the quality of work I am capable of because of the struggle of our low income insecure reality.”

Maria said: “The hardest part is knowing that even a full time job with a good wage is not enough to pay for everything unless you have a council house. Paying the crazy rent prices by yourself as a single parent is almost impossible. Therefore I’m stuck on social welfare whether I like it not. But there is good help with education and for that I am grateful. In time I hope I can earn enough to say goodbye to state assistance. I have not felt stigma, I am proud I did what I needed to do and I am proud that my kids and I are happy and healthy

Suzie shares: “Hardest- the never ending walks of shame, collecting the kids from school alone, dropping to parties, parent teacher meetings. Isolation and not being able to take 5 minutes out in the middle of a big tantrum to just gather your thoughts. Your children thinking you are invincible and you going along with it.
Most rewarding is knowing you could have gone under but found the strength to carry on.
Better childcare and more assistance for lone parents to get work during school hours that doesn’t affect their rent/FIS entitlement/medical cards. And socially something should be done but not quite sure what”

Samantha explains “I suffered economic eviction in May 2015. I had to return home to my mother’s house, my fourth move in three years. It took me 4 months to find a landlord who would accept rent allowance, but I had to move to Dublin from Meath. In the same week my son and i moved into our current home I also registered as a master’s student at Maynooth. I went along to the local post office to collect the rent allowance due to find that it wasn’t there… found out from the local rent supplement office that I wasn’t entitled to rent supplement as a full-time student. I was devastated? Terrified that I would have to choose between a home and my education. It’s awful to feel trapped in such a way, to feel further oppressed by policies which are so disconnected from the people they are designed to aid that these policies actually perpetuate poverty.”

Marese shares: “You get to make all the parenting decisions without having to have rows or compromises with someone who disagrees with you.
You build a really unique relationship and no matter how exhausting or challenging the love just keeps renewing itself and your child knows that in the marrow of his bones.
You show your child that independence, self-sufficiency and responsibility are normal, that poverty is no shame and brand names are a capitalist con that charity shops are treasure troves and bargains are trophies. But I suppose the last few are not exclusive to single parents, just the poor in general.

Maggie said: “Hardest part knowing with all my qualifications I can never return to full time employment as I would need full time childcare that I couldn’t afford meaning I will be living in poverty. Most rewarding hearing my kid’s chuckle and smile knowing that they are happy safe and ok xxx

To conclude

Listening to lone parents who are predominantly women it would seem that many are stuck in poverty traps of which most are desperate to leave but the  current system does not allow this to happen. Rising rents, severe lack of public housing, high childcare costs and the lack of secure employment means many are left to survive on benefits and state supports through no fault or choice of their own. Unless the system begins to listen to those affected and creates progressive polices that will truly lift people out of the poverty trap, many lone parent families will continue to struggle to survive.

Positivity   

What was also apparent from these women was their sense of devotion to their children and their futures. They acknowledge that life is a struggle, but this melts away when they see their child’s smile, when they receive a hug, when they here “I love you mammy”.  These parents have learned how to survive and have a positive approach their children; they have learned how to adapt against all the odds.

SPARK is a unique space of peer support for single parents from all walks of life to share their struggles, their joy, their frustrations and at times their loss. It appears to be a huge support to so many and it is a positive and unifying space that also campaigns so these voices that desperately need to be heard may have that opportunity.

I would like to thank everyone from SPARK that shared their experience with me and I am sorry I could not fit in everybody’s story. I will be doing a follow up piece and I will be able to use all of those wonderful and honest experiences.

You can contact SPARK at: sparkirelandcampaign@gmail.com

Rome’s Housing Crisis

Rome’s Housing Crisis
NIAMH MC DONALD•WEDNESDAY, MAY 25, 2016

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In the suburbs of Rome in a disused college, 180 families have been occupying the building for over 2yrs. These families resorted to occupying after being evicted from their private rented accommodation due to ever increasing rents in Rome. These families are a mix of Nigerian, South American and Italian. Recently, the Municipality of Rome decided not to enact the emergency housing plan created by the regional government. May 10th, 25 of the occupiers decided to begin a hunger strike. They were joined in solidarity by housing activists supporting their occupation.
On Sunday the 23rd of May, I visited the occupation and got the opportunity to interview Frabrizio Nizi, a long time housing activist and a founding member of a grassroots housing group called The Action Rights Movement. Fabrizio is also on hunger strike, and on the day of the interview the hunger strike was 13 days in. He began by giving me a tour of the common areas of the occupation. The building has nine floors, five of these are the living quarters of the occupiers. As you walk in the main foyer of the building you are greeted by a massive green tent which was donated by the Civil Defence. This is where all the hunger strikers are residing. Many of the hunger strikers I meet were all in good spirits but at the same time you were acutely aware that these people were voluntarily starving themselves in protest.

Their faces were gaunt, their eyes sunken, many were chain smoking and constantly drinking water. Some were giddy and hyper while others were just sleeping. I cannot speak Italian so I observed more than conversed, what struck me most was the atmosphere. It was like being at a funeral – something deathly serious was taking place. The air was charged. It was a feeling I have never experienced before during my many years as an activist and something I shall never forget.

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The hunger strikers have 15 doctors supervising them, visiting twice a day. They check all vital signs and also monitor mental health. As of Saturday 13th May, each hunger striker has lost between 6-11 kilos each. Two people had to step down due to serious health issues, and two more replaced them. The strikers meet at 7pm every evening to discuss how they are coping, to share the difficulties & support one another.
The solidarity they are receiving from the public and famous figures in Rome has been overwhelming and this is one of the main factors keeping them strong and united. I sat with Frabrizio for over an hour, he painted a picture of the housing situation in Rome and the organised resistance on the ground, as well as why they have now chosen to take the drastic tactic of a hunger strike.
In total there are minimum 21,000 families with a housing need in Rome. 9000 of these are on the housing list, but this is not up to date as the municipality will only release figures from 2013. 6000 families live in emergency accommodation called “in residence” – this consists of a family living in a 16 meter sq flat, while waiting for social housing – and the final 6000 live in 110 different occupations around the city.
There are 3 refugee occupations but these are not supported by any particular group – charities and voluntary medical organisations support the refugees. 30,000 families are in the process of being evicted from private rented apartments. 95% of the evictions are families unable to meet the ever-increasing rents – every year for the last 10 years rents have increased in Rome. Wages have decreased, taxes increased; social welfare cuts and precarious employment are also factors. More recently, this has started to affect middle class families with two incomes, which is a new phenomenon to Rome. The government did introduce a law to help those in rent difficulty where they pay the landlord directly, however it takes a long time for an application to be processed and it is hard to get approval, so landlords do not trust the government to approve it for tenants and they evict anyway.

There are 110 occupations in Rome and they are supported by three different grassroots housing groups in the city: Action Rights Movement; B.P.M- Block, Precarious, Metropolitan (this group is a split from Action rights Movement); and Co-Ordination for the Fight for Housing (this is the oldest group, beginning in the 1970s and came from a group called Autonomy Reality). All three of these groups work together and all are part of the college occupation and the hunger strike. In 2013 all three groups decided to organise a joint strategy to put the issue of the housing crisis on the political map in Rome.
The campaign was called the Tsunami Tour. This lasted a year from 2013-2014. During those 12 months, a total of 40 buildings were occupied to house families. On the first day of the campaign all three groups occupied 15 buildings. This strategy put massive pressure on the regional government to begin to do something about the housing crisis, as the regional government have the responsibility for the housing situation, and each municipal must take their lead from the regional government. But in Italy, like Ireland, bureaucracy and corruption take precedence over policy. The regional government lead by the Democratic Party decided an emergency housing plan was required.
Rome has 50,000 empty homes on the market for a long period with no one to buy them due to the dire economic conditions, so they set out a budget to purchase these homes and to repair existing social housing. The Municipal of Rome then announced it would take minimum 18 months to plan for this policy. They also give the total responsibility for this plan and all decision-making powers to an un-elected official who is a high ranking member of the police. The activists call him “Tronka”.
Tronka works for the office of the Ministry of the Interior; this office is held by the leader of the right-wing party currently in coalition in Italy. Tronka announced that there is no housing crisis so no emergency plan is required, he deemed all occupations illegal and they will not be recognised. He says Rome only needs 200-250 social houses per year. Tronka said “you do not have a right to a home but you do have a right to a place to live”
This announcement devastated many people they were expecting to move into their forever homes, begin a future of stability and security and rebuild their lives. On the 10th of May residents and activists decided to send a delegation to the municipal to talk to Tronka, while others went to help a sit in at the municipal in support. Tronka refused to meet with them, and the police attacked the protesters, beating them and using water cannons.
At the assembly of the occupation that evening, a decision was taken to begin a hunger strike. 25 people volunteered to partake. On May 11th they returned to see Tronka again and this time they got a meeting. However, when the delegation tried to negotiate with him, he said there will be no negotiation and he just got up and walked out. Following this, the regional government, in opposition to Tronka’s party, announced they do not recognise or agree with what Tronka is doing and denounced his plans. This announcement was a direct result of the pressure applied by the demonstration & hunger strikes. The occupiers & strikers feel this is still not enough and more pressure was required.
Currently Rome is in the middle of a municipal election season. The election is on June 5th and the Democratic Party’s housing manifesto is the same as the regional government’s emergency housing plan.
The Democratic Party are the strongest parliamentary allies for the occupiers, as there is no strong elected left in Italy. The exit strategy for the hunger strikers is for the local Democratic Party candidate Roberto Giachetti to endorse their struggle, and to announce this to the media from the occupation. He has agreed to meet and do this. When this happens the hunger strike will end as this will create the political platform the housing crisis needs, and will ensure the regional plan will be part of the next municipal. It will also ensure that Tronka will be removed from his position under the next administration.
“Why hunger strike?” I asked Fabrizio. “You have to understand there is no movement here in Italy of a strong left political power, yes we have many groups but not a movement. We had to do something drastic to push this. Also this tactic had been discussed in our Assemblies for a while, especially with the introduction of Tronka to supervise housing in the municipal. People had strong reactions to being called illegal and not recognised, told they had no right to a home, some were packing stuff preparing to move to a proper home and suddenly all of this was taken away violently from them. They felt the need to react in such a fashion.
We also want to reach out to people way beyond us to understand the seriousness of the situation. What has emerged is that an Archbishop for the Vatican came to show support for the occupiers and announced that Pope Francis is supporting them and would like to visit and wishes to speak about the housing crisis in the city. Either way the fight for housing continues, election or not, as politicians cannot be trusted, but our actions have placed it firmly on the political map for this election and the newly elected municipal.”

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As of Wednesday 25th of May nothing had changed. If I get any updates I will post them to my Facebook page.

I Daniel Blake

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A middle aged man finds himself at the mercy of the social welfare system in Northern England after an accident at work.
Daniel Blake is a snapshot into the struggles of life on the dole, whether it is because of illness, single parenthood or because it is just impossible to find work as there is none available. It paints a depressing and stark picture of how easy it is from being able to pay your bills rent and feed yourself to becoming dependent on food banks and selling your furniture to pay the gas bill.
Daniel Blake also tells a story of people resilience and the fight for survival against a system that is not designed to assist people when they are at their most desperate.
Daniel is a smart man who has worked hard all his life as a carpenter and has never had to encounter the social welfare system before. It is alien territory for him, he cannot use a computer, does not know what the internet it. Daniel is a practical man who looks for solutions and does not give up easily.

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The sheer frustration I felt on his behalf while trying to navigate is way through a system that creates hurdles at every turn. On his journey he encounters a woman with two children trying to survive on benefits; because she was a few minutes late for an appointment she gets a significant cut to her money.
Their relationships give you faith in humanity in a world where people are trying to keep warm and feed but this is dictated by social welfare’s rules and regulations that are at times in the real world impossible to achieve.
The workers in the welfare are cold almost robotic and they just repeat the same sentences over and over; everything is referred to the “Decision Maker” who is never seen or contactable.
I Daniel Blake breaks the stereotype of people choosing the dole as a lifestyle choice, as it would be much easier to work a job if there were any than to deal with that system on a daily basis.

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I would recommend going and seeing I am Daniel Blake but it is a heavy and dark movie.
Lighthouse Cinema showing times every evening at 6pm and 8.30pm

First blog post

I am a journalism and media student,part of my course is to begin a blog. I do not have a defined theme for my blog so I will be posting commentary about my interests, reviews of events I like to go too and about my life as a student and activist living in Dublin.

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