Yetunde Awosanya arrived from Nigeria in 2012
Yetunde Fashola from Nigeria working on make up for Siphiwe Sandra Moyo. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Yetunde Awosanya was always a performer. As a child she loved singing and dancing and was passionate about theatre. In the initial weeks and months of living in a direct provision centre, she drew on this energy when caring for her two small babies in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Cork hostel.
“When I got to Millstreet I was so depressed. I couldn’t do much but sleep, wake and eat. But people there would encourage me. They’d say we’ve been there, we’ve passed through what you’re going through. We’ve cried too. I was depressed but I still had that zeal.”
Growing up in Lagos in the 1980s she dreamt of becoming an actress. She studied theatrical arts at university and secured a role in a movie during her student years. However, after graduation she decided to focus on make-up artistry and began an apprenticeship with a successful Nigerian make-up artist.
“Make-up is something we all love and at that time lots of make-up artists were really succeeding. I went on an apprenticeship but didn’t finish it because I had to leave the country.”
Awosanya had given birth to her first child during university and was pregnant with twins when she made the difficult decision to leave Nigeria due to problems at home. “I had to leave because of my safety. I was afraid so I left.”
She left her son with his father in Lagos and moved to the UK for a short period before travelling to Ireland. Initially, she chose not to apply for asylum as she hoped to return to Nigeria to be with her son. However, it was difficult to leave once the twins were born and she moved in with a friend of the family. Eventually, she realised she needed to apply for refugee status and moved into a direct provision centre with her babies.
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“In Millstreet I met different people from different countries – I met the good, the bad and the ugly. Perhaps if my kids had been really small I would have been more depressed. But they were growing and that gave me a good edge. I needed to pick myself back up. The centre was so remote and it’s not the kind of place you want to stay in. Although, in a way I liked it because it helped me to know who I really was.”
As Awosanya regained her positivity, she redeveloped an interest in make-up and decided to approach a local charity for support. “I spoke to an organisation called Kasi (Killarney Asylum Seekers Initiative) about training women in make-up artistry at the centre. I said I’d done my own survey of the women and that everyone wanted to be part of it.”
Kasi agreed to help support Awosanya’s proposal and she ran classes for a month. She quickly noticed the effect the classes were having on her friends in the hostel. “I don’t know if Irish people are like this but when Africans get depressed, they just ignore it and before you know it’s gotten worse. I came across so many people in Millstreet who were depressed, every though they didn’t admit it. I realised maybe if I did the classes, the women could get engaged. And they did.
“I wanted to empower them. For me it’s a passion to encourage any woman. My happiness is that they are smiling. If your mind is not active, you yourself can never be active. I’d been there, I knew how it felt and thank god I was able to snap out of it when I noticed it was not right.”
In 2016 Awosanya and her children were transferred to the Mosney direct provision centre in Co Meath. She immediately began planning to set up a beauty course for women at the centre. “I did not jump into training people straight away in Mosney. I decided to take my time and learn about the centre to see how things work.”
When she finally approached the director of the centre, he responded well to her plan for opening a beauty salon. He offered to finance a small portion of the classes but Awosanya knew she would need more money to run the course successfully. With the support of a volunteer at the centre she set up gofundme fundraising page and is now close to hitting her target.
“The Mosney beauty salon is in construction right now but when we open it we want to make it big. We’re looking for make-up artists to come and teach for a day and also companies to donate supplies. After three months we’ll have a Christmas party and people will be able to showcase their work.
“I want every woman who wants to be part of my classes to feel like she has a space where she belongs. I want them to see they can do anything if they put their minds to it.”
Awosanya hopes the Department of Justice will grant her refugee status so she can one day open up her own salon in Dublin’s city centre. “I want to give back to the community. I want to pay my taxes and give back to the Government. I want to have a studio in the heartbeat of Dublin.”
She also hopes to apply for her 10-year-old son to join her in Ireland once her papers come through. “When you have a child and you’re not with that child, it’s the worst thing ever. It’s not something I would want any mother to go through. I want him to be here and see him grow with his younger siblings.”
Even if her status comes through, she plans to continue working with the Mosney beauty salon. “If I’m not there at some point I want to be able to hand it over. I want it to keep running because it’s like a baby to me now.
“My own plans are to continue teaching and to tell my story as a speaker to those within the direct provision system as well as those outside it. If I were successful, I think my story could help prove to people that it is possible to make a difference, no matter what your circumstances.”