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Benedicta Attoh

Benedicta Attoh came to Ireland in 2000 when Nigeria’s democracy was still in its infancy. It was a year that saw bitter religious bloodletting in Kaduna in February, riots between Muslims and Christians across the North throughout the summer and by autumn: the outlawing of all tribal malitia groups by an increasingly unstable government. She arrived in Ireland with her family, a Degree in Education and some dreams about making a difference. Ten years on she is a winner of the Vodafone World of Differenceaward − enabling her to work with Plan Ireland − focussing on issues affecting children and girls in the developing world. The World of Difference programme funds outstanding individuals to work with a chosen charity for a year, providing a salary (up to €40,000) plus expenses. Benedicta kindly agreed to answer some questions:

Inequality in Ireland, where do you see it most and how can it be highlighted?
There’s inequality in every society, the main reason being a lack of understanding and fear. Difference is another major reason for inequality; we see this most clearly with discrimination against black people, travellers, gays and lesbians, people living with disabilities, young people, women and elderly citizens.
What does the west have to offer?
The west has a lot to offer in terms of opportunities. This is largely due to the crises of leadership in the global south where many migrants come from. However, being a stranger is a difficult enough experience, where people have to leave loved ones behind, leave familiar territory and venture into the unknown to look for better opportunities. Some ethnic Irish people (not all, I hate to generalise!) believe immigrants get it “easy” in Ireland. How is that possible when in reality they suffer from racism, lack of access to education and employment? In this time of economic crisis, they are also accused of taking Irish jobs, etc. People in the asylum process live on €19 per week for adults and €9 for per child. In some cases, people stay stuck in the asylum process for up to eight years. You have to be in a desperate situation in the first place to put yourself through an experience like that.
The whole issue of misogyny and the power of Islam in Nigeria is salient, what about the treatment of women, particularly Christian women as minorities in the north? Does female circumcision still exist there?
Nigeria is a very diverse country and religion is one of the pillars of diversity. Unfortunately, this has also been a source of conflict in some parts of Nigeria, particularly in the North. It is well-known that an individual’s act or mistake can easily trigger a religious crisis, which in turn can lead to killing and maiming of minorities, particularly women and children. This is regrettable and hard to take in as it continues to have a negative impact on Nigerians politically, socially, economically…and at local, national and international levels. Female circumcision still occurs in some cultures although the Government and civil society organisations are working extremely hard to eradicate the practice. 
Witchcraft and allegations levelled at women and children are very hard to grasp. How can these issues be dealt with?
Casting “witches” and “wizards” from frightened innocents is absurd and should be punishable. A lot of these children can’t even spell or understand the phenomenon. In my view these practices are about publicity and making some quick money. Perpetrators must be dealt with − they should face the law.
There is a perception of Nigerians in Ireland and elsewhere…that they could be part of a big con-artist programme, while in fact a lot of Nigerians are highly educated and love the west…what can be done to rid this type of stereotyping?
This is so sad, one size does not fit all. People must be treated with respect and dignity. Irish people must reflect on their own experience of immigration: on the name calling and isolation, particularly in Britain. The ‘oppressed’ does not have to become the ‘oppressor’.
Ireland has a poor record on racism in recent times, yet Irish people have lived in every corner of the planet as emigrants themselves. What can we do to dilute this type of ignorance?
Awareness raising, education and enforcement. Racism should not be tolerated at all as it destroys individuals, their families and communities. It is crucial to continue to raise awareness in schools and local communities about the dangers of racism but legislation must also be introduced (and used) to punish perpetrators of racism.
What will your work with Plan Ireland entail?
My role will involve visiting schools, women’s groups, female politicians and local communities to speak and raise awareness about the issues affecting girls in developing countries and what people can do to help in ireland. At the end of the 12-month period, I hope to have a committee of influential women who will continue to drive the “Because I am A Girl ” agenda. I will also help implement a development education strategy for Plan Ireland.
Magic wand, ‘one’ thing (big or small): what and why?
Become a baby all over again. Why? They have no cares in the world!
June Caldwell

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