29/08/2017 - I came to Ireland on 11 November 2011 to seek asylum. I lived in Balseskin Reception Centre for 1 month then I was moved to Globe House, Sligo where I stayed until 1st June 2017. As an asylum seeker, we were told that you are not allowed to go to school and work. I was only 23 that time, full of energy and life had just begun. I had so many dreams and plans for my life but when I heard about this all my dreams and plans were shattered.

I was living in a nightmare. Growing up, I was told to work extra hard in school so that you can have a bright future and live independent. Now there I was living in direct provision where by you depend on the government to feed you and giving you a minimal amount for your up keep, not allowing you to work or go to school. An idle mind is the devils workshop, living in the direct provision you got nothing to do on a day to day basis and nothing to occupy yourself.

In June 2015, a friend called me to his room and asked me if I have heard about Irish Refugee Council Education and Training Grants Scheme. By that time, I didn’t know anything and it was a week before the closing day of the application. Immediately after that I went online and checked the conditions. They wanted to sponsor young people between 18-27 years old and June 2015 was just 3 months before my 27th birthday I thought I will not stand a chance. And looking at time I had to submit my application, I nearly gave up.

Staying in the direct provision made me lose my confidence. Ever since I have been in this country some of the things I was applying for, if I was an asylum seeker they would always refuse my application. I didn’t have any hope of anything good happening as long as I remained an asylum seeker in this country. It was a battle whether to go ahead with the application because my mind was convinced that the answer I will get will be ‘your application has not been successful’ and it always ruins my day every time I get such a letter. Now that I was convinced that the answer will be no, it was easy for me just to give it a try. I said to myself even if they will refuse my application I won’t cry, at least I was just trying.

From that day, I organized my application and I sent it a day before the closing date with no hope that I will hear from them again. Weeks later, I received a call from the Refugee Council they were trying to contact one of my referees and the number was not going through and they wanted to find out if I have another number. At the end of that call she said you will hear from us shortly. I was in shock and same time  happy to hear from them because it gave me hope that they looked at my application but I was not sure whether they will give me the grant or not.

On 7th August 2015, I got a letter from IRC that I have been successful in my application. I could not believe this that finally an asylum seeker can go to college. It was just like a dream coming true. By that time I had applied two colleges, one college called me for interviews a week after I was so happy going there because I had grant ready with me, immediately when I was there she called my name and started explaining that since you are an asylum seeker, we can’t accept you here so there is no need for you to do the interviews. It was a long walk back home. You can imagine having a grant without a college to go to. I remember tears coming down uncontrollably all the way home.

Weeks later, IT Sligo was about to open I went there to follow up my application. The reception I received was a complete different one from the previous college. They helped me finalizing my application because it was a late application. I accepted and changed my application to Higher Certificate in Accounting at IT Sligo. A week later I received the offer letter. I was so excited; I didn’t imagine myself going back to college while I was in the asylum process. To me this was everything I ever wanted, not only was I going to school while in the asylum process but I was also studying something I love. I fell in love with mathematics while I was in my first year of my secondary school and I could not dream of any other career than being a Chartered Accountant.

September 2015, I started Higher Certificate in Accounting level 6 at IT Sligo. It was 6 years  since I was in class. I knew I will be in a class with people who are just coming from school and they are still fresh. Not only was that a problem, I also had a 3 years old son. The time I was in school I didn’t have any responsibility but now I needed to step up. It was a big challenge for me and I was happy to take it. I had the grant but I didn’t have money to help me to put my son in crèche while I am in the college. I used to ask friends to help me to keep my son while I am in college. There was a time they were all tired and didn’t want to help anymore and I had no option but to look for a crèche. Now it was even more financially harder, I would miss meals from the hostel and was not able to buy extra things for my son. I remember there were times I wanted to give up but still there was another voice saying to me what if this is your only opportunity and thinking of the grant that has already been paid it made me not to give up on my dreams.

To cut the story short, despite all the hardship when I was in class it was serious business. I didn’t want my financial problems or the state of being an asylum seeker hinder my progress in class. I always had Charlotte’s (IRC Student Advisor) advice in mind “don’t miss classes and ask the lecture if can’t understand anything.” To my amazement I managed to pass my first year with a distinction GPA of 84. This gave me the morale and it restored my confidence. I wanted to do better than this. Now I have finished my Higher Certificate in Accounting with a distinction.

I want to thank the Irish Refugee Council Education and Training Grants Committee for believing in me and awarding me the grant and thanks to everyone or organization contributing to this grant. You made me realize my dream and changed my life. It’s been quite an awesome experience in my life and I have gained new skills and knowledge that will help me to reach my goal of becoming a Charted Accountant. This could not have been possible if it was not for your help.

There are more young people in the direct provision who’s dreams have been shattered.  They would love to go back to school but they cannot afford to pay for their school fees. Your help might change someone’s life like me. Please help to contribute to Irish Refugee Council Education Fund.

- Takondwa Mwale

Takondwa Mwale has since been granted status and can now avail of the SUSI grant to complete her degree in accounting. Without the support she received to study for the last two years, she would only be starting her third-level education now, after years in the asylum process.

To find out more about how you can support people in the asylum process to access further education please contact our Education Officer, Charlotte Byrne
Email Charlotte