Taste of Community Gives Igbo Women Greater Sense of Purpose in Ireland

By Michaela Althouse

Featured in Metro Eireann


Charity work never tasted so good as Igbo women in Dublin banded together to raise money for those less fortunate in Nigeria.
Umunwanyi Olaedo Dublin held an event recently to raise funds for those living with Hansen’s disease. The food, all traditional Nigerian dishes, was cooked by members of the organisation and sold to the public, who also made small donations.

“The response was amazing,” says the organisation’s president Ijeoma Obioha. “People responded because they all know what is going down in Nigeria and they love how people are helping.”

People from all walks of life came to support the cause – especially due to the uniqueness of Nigeria food and its rare presence in the Dublin dining scene.

Umunwanyi Olaedo Dublin works to build relationships among and to help Igbo women in Ireland. It meets once a month to discuss cultural and community-building issues, and organises events to encourage integration within Irish society.


Their focus, they say, is on enriching life for women and promoting family values. “A stable family is like the gem of society,” says Obioha.

The organisation held a similar event last year, raising food donations for the homeless in Dublin. This time, however, they decided to give the food instead of receiving it, and send the proceeds back to Nigeria.

Obioha notes that the Nigerian economy is unstable, and with regular outbreaks of conditions such as Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, many are in need of more than just food.

It was an important decision for Olaedo, she says, because it encourages its members to remember where they came from.

For Igbo women in Ireland, Obioha says, one of their biggest issues is the marriage of cultures among Nigerians in the diaspora. There has to be a balance between promoting their own background and immersing in Irish life, though many are moving towards western ideas. It is important to have both, she says, to prevent marginalisation.

“I’m not trying to degrade their culture, but I want the women of Ireland to appreciate Nigerians and their culture [too].”

At the group’s own meetings, Obiola encourages members to be vocal, reasoning that while one cannot force people to integrate, one can still talk to them about it and begin the conversation, perhaps even persuading those in need to be confident enough to ask for help.

Umunwanyi Olaedo also gets involved with events that are traditionally Irish, such as marching in the St Patrick’s Day Parade. And by promoting stable family life, the group also hopes to let Nigerian ideals flourish in a new environment. “Every culture has positives … and we try to promote those values,” says Obioha.

The organisation has gone through multiple stages, including a name change, but their current phase began in 2011 and continues to grow. Members are usually added through word of mouth; people see their focus on family or are attracted by their charity work.

Along with her associates, Obioha organises the events and meetings, and works to co-ordinate women and get them interacting and speaking with one another.

She also acts as a liaison with the Igbo Union Dublin, the men’s organisation of which they are a branch. But mostly she is there to help create a better life for Igbo women in Ireland.

“We felt like we should be able to help raise funds for these people who need us,” she says. “We’d be an impact on society, and our culture as well.”


All-Ireland Scholarships Make Real Difference for New Irish Students

By Michaela Althouse

Featured in Mero Eireann


Opportunity knocked on the door of Emad Alsaleh, allowing the Longford student the chance to pursue his education without the sometimes enormous costs.


Alsaleh is one of 125 recipients of the 2017 All-Ireland Scholarships, sponsored by Limerick racehorse owner JP McManus and awarded to students across the Republic and Northern Ireland.

For Alsaleh, it means €6,750 to put towards his pharmacy degree at Trinity College Dublin, where he is a fresher.

“In general I always wanted to help people,” says Alsaleh about his chosen subject. “I always admired those who can offer so much advice like when I’m in the pharmacy or at the doctor. You can just ask them questions about anything.”

The All-Ireland Scholarships are given to high-achieving students to provide financial assistance for their education, administered by the Department of Education and Skills.

Now in their 10th year, the programme has provided over €32 million, funding some 1,300 students over the last decade.

On 25 November, the University of Limerick hosted this year’s All-Ireland Scholarships award ceremony, where Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of State for Higher Education, made the presentations and President Michael D Higgins made a special guest appearance. Out of 100 students chosen across the Republic of Ireland for this year’s scholarships, 20 come from migrant backgrounds,

Among them on the night was Alsaleh, 18, who arrived in Ireland from Libya at just 12 months of age, accompanying his father who was studying in graduate school.

Alsaleh says he returns to his home country every so often and keeps in contact with his family there, emphasising the current political situation in Libya has only made him more grateful about his success.

The scholarship was a surprise for Alsaleh, who qualified automatically after applying for a Leaving Certificate fee exemption.

“I just woke up in the morning and I saw this letter in my post,” he says. “At first I didn’t believe it.”

Alsaleh says the scholarship has enabled him to thrive in his schooling. He put the money towards textbooks, which he had difficulty buying before, and it allows him to live in Dublin instead of commuting from Longford. Living in the city and having money left over to socialise also provides him with a better experience of college life.

“The amount of money your parents have shouldn’t ever decide whether or not you should go to college,” he says. “This thing is such a really great help and I’m really grateful for it.”

Alsaleh feels very passionate about the idea that no one should let their financial status prevent them from succeeding in further education, and that hard work and asking for help pays off in the end.

The scholarship, he believes, is particularly important because it recognises students that are less advantaged. Moreover, he is convinced that his success can motivate others in his county. Upon the news of his achievement, Alsaleh received multiple messages from other students inspired to work for the same.

“Life presents you with gifts,” he says, “and you should never give up.”

Inquest Rules Teen’s Tragic Liffey Drowning as Accidental

By Michaela Althouse

Featured in Metro Eireann


The death of a promising young soccer player last year has been ruled accidental due to drowning, according to a recent coroner’s inquest.

Frank Mekang, 13, died on 14 May 2016 after getting into dif culty while swimming in the River Liffey near Phoenix Park with his teammates after a match.

Testimony by Frank’s coach Keith Norton revealed that such river swims had occurred a few times earlier in the season, but were not sanctioned or supervised by the club.

Norton said he went with the boys that day to provide some form of adult supervision, and had just finished asking them to wrap things up when Frank said he wanted to join them in the water.

Though Norton said he believed the Cameroonian youngster did not know how to swim and advised against it, some of Frank’s teammates convinced him to try.

Shortly after jumping in, Frank began to struggle, and Norton said he jumped in right

after to rescue him, but the teen was panicking and ended up slipping off his back.

Norton said he was unable to reach Frank again, and was forced to get out of the water to speak to an emergency operator who he claimed would not take a call placed by his son, one of Frank’s teammates.


The inquest also heard that a life ring that should have been available at that stretch of the river was missing, presumably removed by vandals.

Frank Mekang’s body was recovered by specialist divers at 3.53pm, eight metres down- stream from the jetty where he had entered the water. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The coroner’s report stated that Frank was otherwise healthy, with nothing found in his autopsy that contributed to his death by drowning.

Metro Éireann reported on Frank’s death earlier this year, when his migrant mother made a plea for answers as to why he went to the water at all despite not knowing how to swim.

The judge, who expressed her deepest condolences to the family, said that given all the surrounding circumstances, the death proved to be an accident.

She gave a recommendation that the public not interfere with lifesaving devices, and hoped this may prevent any similar tragedies in the future.

Dismayed by Doctors, Maria Turns to Natural Medicine to Find the Remedy for her Ills

By Michaela Althouse 

Featured in Metro Eireann


Maria Angolo feels like she’s been to almost every doctor in Dublin. But she refuses to go back to a modern physician ever again. Irish medicine doesn’t cut it for her, she says, and instead, the former nurse is seeking out alternative forms of healing.


dismayed-by-doctors-maria-turns-to-natural-medicine-to-find-the-remedy-for-her-ills292d3b8154c607bd4a94Maria’s struggles began over 20 years ago, when she had recurring flu-like symptoms every three months or so. She was treated with antibiotics but the problems persisted, and so her doctor sent her to surgery for swollen tonsils. When she continued to feel unwell, the Namibian native was diagnosed with polyps and went for surgery. And that’s where the problems really began.


In the 15 years since, Maria says she has seen as many as 20 different doctors, and many of those multiple times. She has been to multiple hospitals in Ireland and has seen every kind of doctor she could think of: from ear, nose and throat; respiratory specialist; even an allergist.


She has undergone two significant surgeries and travelled to the UK to seek a second opinion. Yet all she has to show for it are mountains of paperwork, missing bone and cartilage in her nose, severed vocal cords and an extended hole beginning behind her nostrils and extending into her throat.


Most often, she was simply referred to another physician and more than once she claims she was refused treatment entirely, even marched out of the consultation without explanation.


“I’m like a football being kicked from one doctor to another,” Maria says. “Fifteen years is a long time to solve one problem.”


Maria is no stranger to the medical world. She spent her early years as a registered nurse before creating her own nursing recruitment agency, though it was liquidated in the 2009 recession.


She also requests her medical notes of every doctor she sees under the Freedom of Information Act, recording their various and conflicting diagnoses. “I used to be the one telling people to take their pills,” she says. “Now I wouldn’t go near them.”


Maria is incapable of blowing her nose, and says she suffers from chronic bad breath as a result of the mucus buildup. For the halitosis she has seen two different dentists, both of whom, she says, discovered “significant clouding” in her right sinus via X-ray – something she claims was missed by all the doctors she consulted before.


But Maria’s health troubles do not stop there. In 2011, she was diagnosed with congestive cardiac failure and cardiomyopathy on top of her existing high blood pressure, and ended up back in the hospital.

‘The doctor wouldn’t listen’


It has reached the point, Maria says, where her issues extend beyond physical and into the emotional. After her 2011 hospital stay, she was given heart medication and says that in the matter of a few weeks she became “suicidal”.


At her six-week checkup she begged to be taken off the tablets, as some heart medicines are known to affect mental health and she believed that was the case with her. She was told she needed to wait another six weeks for the medication to work. Instead of getting better, she says she reached the point of a suicide attempt.


“They say ‘Oh, talk to someone if you feel low or if you have those thoughts.’ There was I, talking to someone, and the doctor wouldn’t listen to me.”


Lately Maria feels frustrated, sceptical, and scared. She has little to no confidence left in the Irish medical system, and she feels close to giving up.


Her constant treatments have caused financial issues as well. Maria cannot work due to her health and lives on disability; she has recently turned, against her better wishes, to renting out a home she owns to cover her mounting costs.


Maria’s repeated perceived failures in modern medicine have led her down a new path, and earlier this year she began seeing a naturopath, who diagnosed her with a bacterial infection in her teeth that was linked to her heart complications.


Since then, Maria says she only takes naturopathic medicine and has begun attending sessions in a hyperbaric chamber, which the patient breaths in pure oxygen in an effort to aid the body’s healing process.


While these and other alternative methods are regarded as pseudoscience in evidence-based medicine (a referral for the hyperbaric chamber was refused by a conventional doctor), Maria says her experience turned her into a big believer in natural healing, along with a proper diet, exercise and essential oils for relaxation.


Her journey has brought her to others with similar experiences, but she finds that many people are afraid to speak out. She wants her story to increase awareness and hopes to show people that there might be more than one option when seeking medical treatment.


“I really have no choice but to look at other alternatives, because I just feel I have been let down big time,” she says. “I don’t want to wait another 15 years.”



Irish Dancer Caydee is Kicking up Tradition

By Michaela Althouse

Featured in Metro Eireann


Caydee Dunne fell into her success in Irish dancing, but her trophies show she certainly landed on her feet.

Now aged 13, the Ballyfermot native – with an Irish mum and a Kenyan dad – has danced for nine years, starting out only because she was too young to try out for drama like she wanted.

“My mam put me in Irish dancing, just for a year ‘cause I was four,” she says. “I was supposed to go back, quit dancing and join drama, [but] I wanted to stay in dancing.”

The decision has clearly paid off, as Caydee recently took third place in the All Ireland preliminaries hosted by the Irish Dancing Commission.


Familiar to most people outside of Ireland from the world-famous Riverdance, traditional Irish dancing is performed both individually, with step dancing, and in teams with céilí and set dances.

The main focus is the quick-paced, intricate footwork performed alongside traditional Irish music. But it also has significant value in preserving Irish language and culture, and promoting the same around the world. Through the likes of the aforementioned Riverdance as well as Irish communities abroad, the influence stretches as far as Brazil, Japan and South Africa.

Caydee attends the Doyle Halpin School of Dancing, where she practices three days a week. She loves everything about it — her top moves are the ‘rock’ and the ‘flick’; she loves kicking her legs in the air as high as she can – but says the best part is getting to wear the intricately decorated costumes at competition, full of vibrant colour and studded with gemstones. Such competitions happen about eight times a year, and her school also holds an annual showcase.

Caydee also enjoys the time she gets to spend with her dance friends and the people she’s met along the way.

“I have lots of friends in dancing, and it’s fun,” she says. “They’re not really strict or anything and we do group dances as well.”

Competitions have allowed Caydee to meet dancers from the UK and even the USA, and she likes the fact that people from other cultures get to enjoy the tradition — even if it’s a modernised version.

“It’s not really traditional, we have the big glitzy dresses and all, but some people do traditional Irish dancing. So they get to see our side, glitzy and glam, and we get to see their side.”

Caydee says the hardest part of dancing is trying to learn all the moves, and staying flexible to do all the kicks required.

“Say your friend could do it real easy but you couldn’t do it for weeks,” she adds, “but you just have to keep trying.” Plenty of practice, as well as help from encouraging teachers and more experienced older studentsmakes things easier, too.

In between dance and school work, Caydee is also on the basketball and soccer teams at Caritas College. Despite her success in Irish dancing, she says she really wants to pursue her true love of sports.

“I want to get a scholarship to America. I really want to go to Kentucky — I don’t know why — and Florida.”

The budding globetrotter also aspires to go Kenya with her father, where he grew up. But not without packing her dancing shoes.




Photos Probe What it Means to be Irish Today

By Michaela Althouse

Featured in Metro Eireann

Yaqoub Jemil BouAynaya prefers the title ‘person of the world’. But his recent exhibition at the Gallery of Photography is all about what it means to be Irish.

Perceived Irishness is a multimedia show that captures what it means to be Irish today. Intended to explore the concept of identity, BouAynaya worked with people all over the country to call attention to the nature of representation through photography, and its potential for strengthening harmful stereotypes.

No background information is provided on its subjects, and visitors are encouraged to reflect on their own cultural knowledge as well as the themes of belonging and otherness in an exhibition that intends to raise awareness and ask questions of personal identity, ethnicity and citizenship and how it determines nationhood.


BouAynaya is a citizen of mixed background himself, with a mother from Ireland and a father from Tunisia. Born and raised in Dublin, he had his first exhibition at the offices of Japanese national broadcaster NHK in Matsuyama, southern Japan, where he was taking part in an Asia-Europe Young Volunteers Exchange programme.

Graduating with a BSc from University College Dublin, he went on to study at the Danish School of Media and Journalism, and worked to grow his expertise in cultural immersion and photography. He also worked as an environmental scientist with consultants TMS Environment.

In 2007, BouAynaya travelled around the world teaching English on the 58th Global Peace Boat Voyage, affiliated with recent Nobel Peace Prize winners at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). BouAynaya says he uses his experiences working and studying at home and abroad to fuel the creative process.

His most recent endeavour is a recently completed PhD on ‘perceived Irishness’ in the Trinity College Department of Sociology, where he is employed as a lecturer. His thesis looks into the reconstruction of Irish identity “within the continuum of liquid modernity”. The photographs and audio of this study provide the basis for his exhibition.

Perceived Irishness runs until Sunday 5 November at the Gallery of Photography on Meeting House Square in Dublin’s Temple Bar, which also hosts a panel discussion on the exhibition on Thursday 2 November at 1pm.


Jeewon’s School is for Life, not Just Language

By Michaela Althouse

Featured in Metro Eireann

‘Jeewon’ in Hindi means ‘life’ – which is exactly what Sudesh Jeewon feels he gives his students at the Dublin College of Advanced Studies.

jeewons-school-is-for-life-not-just-for-language089d4feb74dc598e8596Around 100 part-time and full-time international students are enrolled at the Capel Street school, which teaches different levels of English and prepares students for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam.

Jeewon has been in charge of the school for a year, since he was approached by its prior owners in dire financial straits. In the 12 months since, he says he has paid off most of the school’s debt and filled its classes to almost full capacity.

An immigrant himself, Jeewon left his home country of Mauritius at the age of 27 to study in the UK. Now a father of three, he has been in the education business for 13 years, setting up in Ireland — initially in Killarney — after his school in England closed five years ago.

“School is a noble business,” he says. “We are opening the minds of people and doors for people.”

Jeewon says his students — mostly from Brazil, but also Mexico and Malaysia — come to Ireland because of its more flexible immigration policy compared to the UK. All they need is a letter from the school and proof of funds.

Ireland is a great place for his students, he says, because they are allowed to work part-time – and because the Taoiseach is a son of an immigrant. He also notes that Ireland is growing as a leader in agriculture, IT and aircraft leasing, and full of opportunity.

This is a far cry from his experience in the UK, where many of his students there were targeted for removal by the Home Office. They were easier to find than illegal immigrants not on record, Jeewon suggests, and many language schools closed as a result.

“They come and they don’t get harassed by immigration officers,” Jeewon says of the very different experience for language students in Ireland. “They are very free, and Ireland itself is a very welcoming country.”

Care of duty

The Dublin College of Advanced Studies emphasises its teachers’ ‘care of duty’ to their students, serving as part tutors and part parents to young people far away from their families and home.

Jeewon recalls one student in particular who was fainting in class from too much pressure, and whom he accompanied to the hospital. The school subsequently helped her get a job, and she is now thriving and working at a restaurant.

Other tasks for the school’s staff besides help with finding work include helping students get their PPS numbers and ID cards and opening bank accounts. As a result of their help, many former students stay in Ireland long after graduation.

However, the focus of the school is on learning English. Jeewon calls it the language of business, technology and commerce, which gives the students many more options in employment. Even students who return to their home countries are excited to learn English in order to find better jobs or receive promotions, as well as make friends abroad.

Valuable asset

Jeewon feels that educating immigrants is a valuable asset to both Ireland and the world at large. Immigrants work twice as hard and get farther than native students who may not realise the opportunities available to them, he says, adding that the success of immigrants can then lead to jobs for locals.

He notes that some of the top business leaders in the world are the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, such as the founders of Apple and Google.

“They learn every single thing they can learn, and they become the leaders of industry,” he says. “[They] have that courage that immigrants have to take things one step further.”

As for Jeewon’s steps further, he is unsure where the rest of his life will take him. There are plenty of possibilities, including Canada, New Zealand and India. But for now, his work will keep him in Dublin with his school and his students.

“We have to help them in whatever way we can,” he says of himself and his staff. “We help them because we came as immigrants, too.