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'Having been in direct provision for such a long time I had started to lose confidence'

I needed an outlet that brought positivity to myself and others around me, writes Ellie Kisyombe.

SOME PEOPLE SAY they understand what’s going on with direct provision in Ireland, and some choose to ignore it. I think the way asylum seekers have been portrayed in the media has caused people to react to what they hear about these people and not to who they actually are.

They get scared because they feel ‘oh they are here to take our jobs, our money, our country, our social welfare, our housing’. These are unfair assumptions.

Unable to cook

I come from a foodie background, however, due to direct provision, I spent five years not being able to cook or eat any of the food I was used to.

My parents ran a food business in Malawi and I’ve family members that ran bakeries and confectionaries. It was great to grow up with them and learn about food and keep that tradition.

Our Table came about because food is a super tool that can connect two people who don’t speak the same language. If you want to connect with someone – have good food.

I met Michelle Dermody, the co-founder of Our Table, who was involved in the food business, which is what I wanted to do. Up to that point, it was very difficult for me to find a connection to the Irish community. When I met her, it was like a dream come true.

Building confidence

We set up Our Table so people can come and cook food, and build confidence to get employment. We began Our Table as a pop-up in the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar in 2016 for three months. Those three months blew my mind.

I was invited by Darina Allen to go to Ballymaloe Cookery School and while there I learned so much I stopped doubting myself.

Having been in direct provision for such a long time I had started to lose confidence. Sometimes you can lose your way and lose yourself and I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to do this. Three years later, here I am.

I needed an outlet

Sometimes I chat with people that have followed my journey from day one. They say ‘Ellie, we’ve watched you, we’ve seen the government policies on direct provision and now you’ve made a platform to say things’.

When I came here eight years ago, it was scary. I’ve accomplished  things that mentally I didn’t think I would be capable of doing. I took a huge risk when I stepped out from my comfort zone and travelled to Ireland by myself. I’ll be honest, it was a struggle.

Often I felt angry, however, while some people may choose a self-destructive path when faced with adversity, I did not want to go that way. I needed an outlet that brought positivity to myself and others around me, hence the creation of Our Table.

I am currently writing two books, inspired by my journey here. They are about everything that happened to me during my stay in direct provision, and how I’ve overcome it, along with the people who’ve really loved and cared for me.

I want to highlight how the direct provision experience can affect people.

Malawi-born Ellie Kisyombe and her children have lived in direct provision for eight years as asylum seekers. Ellie co-founded Our Table with chef and food writer Michelle Dermody as a community-driven, non-profit project to highlight the need to end direct provision in Ireland. Their goal is to facilitate change through conversation over food. Ellie gave a talk at the Farmgate Café, English Market on 15 June as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival’s City of Ideas. Cork Midsummer Festival runs from 15-24 June, featuring 10 days of theatre, literature, dance, music, visual art and family-friendly festivities.

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