‘Nobody knew I was leaving except my father, who was on his death bed’

Mpho Mokotso moved to Ireland from Lesotho with her daughter in 2019

Mpho Mokotso moved to Ireland with her then 12-year-old daughter on August 21st, 2019, from Lesotho.

She came here seeking asylum, and stayed in a hotel in Dublin’s Ballsbridge until Covid hit, when she was moved to Mosney direct provision centre in Co Meath.

In April 2021, she was granted leave to remain status, and started looking for somewhere to live. Eventually, and perhaps due to her background in property management, Mokotso did not find the hunt for a house too difficult.

She was offered a house to rent, in Bettystown, Co Meath, and she and her daughter moved there in December 2021.

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“I used to say to my daughter when we were in Mosney, and I used to take long walks along the beach, that when we get out of here, I want to live around here, around these houses. Now I live five minutes away from the beach,” Mokotso says.

But the beach was not the only factor. Mokotso did not want to move far away from her daughter’s school, as she did not want her to change schools again, having already moved from Ballsbridge to Mosney.

“It is traumatic for kids to be changing schools, they settle in a place and then you uproot them again, they become the new student again, the new black student, and like, the first school she went to she was the only black student ever in the school,” Mokotso says.

But her daughter took things in her stride, Mokotso says, and would come home saying, “Oh my God, everybody’s so fascinated by me, Mom,” and that they all wanted to be her friend.

When applying for asylum, Mokotso did not want to leave Lesotho due to religious or political reasons, but for personal family reasons, and so she fell into the “other” category.

“All I wanted was to be here and feel safe,” she says. Lesotho is a small country, under half the size of Ireland, with a population of 2.3 million in 2022.

“My country is so small that if you were to meet somebody from Lesotho today, like non-formally, even if it’s somebody, assuming nobody had ever heard of my name or something, while they’re sitting there, they can text somebody back home and within 10 minutes, somebody would have made a connection, she’s so and so,” Mokotso says.

“You can connect surnames to places, and I think it’s like that here in Ireland, you can connect all the surnames from that district – we have districts, not counties.”

She was told she was going to Ireland, and within a week, Mokotso and her daughter were out of the country. But her son is still in Lesotho.

“I knew he would be okay with his father, and he had his own life. I kind of knew he would be sorted somehow,” she says.

“Nobody knew I was leaving except my father, who was on his death bed. I felt like if I left without telling him, he would worry, so I needed him to know that I am not going to be there. And you can tell when somebody is nearing his end. So I needed that, we both needed that,” Mokotso says.

Her father died on a Saturday, two weeks after she arrived in Ireland.

“I was alone,” she says.

“I didn’t cry, I didn’t do anything, because I didn’t want to scare my daughter. So I’ve never mourned my dad. Maybe someday I will.

“I couldn’t break down, I had to be solid. So while she was crying that her Grandad passed on, and we’re not going to go home, I had to hold it, saying, no, we’re going to be okay. I’m always thinking, will I ever mourn? Will I break down at some point?”

Mokotso went down to get lunch later that day, having not had any breakfast. A woman got into the elevator with her, and said, “Hi, how are you?” and “I just cried,” Mokotso says.

She told her that her father had just died, and that woman found her a room afterwards, and when Mokotso let her know that she was alone with her daughter and did not know anybody, she introduced her to the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI).

“I found my family in MASI,” Mokotso says.

She began receiving invitations to events the group were running and started attending, first out of guilt because they had been so kind to her, but soon she found herself looking forward to going, getting out of the hotel and meeting people.

Mokotso began growing her network but felt isolated because many others in the hotel were studying for roles as professional carers, and Mokotso did not want to, because she knew she “did not have the heart for that”.

Then, at an event ran by An Cosan, Mokotso met a woman working in Dublin South City Partnership, and she introduced her to more courses to upskill. In 2020-2021, she was doing two courses simultaneously, online, using her phone for one, and a laptop she was given for the other.

Her aim was to get back into town planning, having worked in that industry in Lesotho, but having hit a stumbling block, she applied for a master’s in refugee integration at DCU.

She did not have the funds to pay for the course, so MASI sponsored her, and afterwards she got a job at Dublin South City Partnership, where she now works as a community integration officer.

“What we do is we work with people who are hard to reach, disadvantaged and isolated. We’re trying to bring them to the services or take services to them. So with me, because of my background, I think it’s kind of narrowed down to me [working] mostly with international protection applicants,” Mokotso says.

“It’s good for me, but the problem with me is, I want to move away from that kind of thing. I’m out of direct provision, but I’m still living in that space,” Mokotso says, adding that she also works with Schools of Sanctuary Ireland and the Irish Network Against Racism.

“I find myself in these spaces that are talking about migrants and the challenges they face, and I ask myself, ‘is this what I want to give for the rest of my life?’ It’s a chapter I’m unable to close.”

Nonetheless, Mokotso loves what she does, and says she receives a lot of support from her colleagues and bosses.

There is one thing she struggles with, however:“When you come from such places where racism is clear, you know what you’re working with. Here, you don’t know what you’re working with. For me, that’s a bit difficult,” Mokotso explains.

“Here, it’s not so [clear]. You see somebody looking at you now, you don’t know whether they want to attack you, so you don’t know how to react. You start looking down, you could get in trouble for just looking down. It’s difficult to navigate because the next person could be so nice, the next one could be horrible.”

She still plans to stay in Ireland, and in Bettystown in particular, with dreams of owning a house someday, in her quiet neighbourhood.

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish