Coolio Antonio moved to Ireland with so little English that all he could say was “hello”, “goodbye” and “thank you”. That made it difficult to integrate and develop friendships, until one day, three years ago, a friend asked that they join an adult learning course together.
“When he asked me I thought, ‘No way’. I was too nervous. When I started, on the first day, I wanted to run away and pretend I was going to the toilet but never come back,” he laughs. “But I got more confident as time went on, day by day,” he says.
Antonio, originally from Angola, moved to Ireland some 15 years ago for “a better life”.
While Angola’s economy is among the fastest-growing in the world, and one of Africa’s big oil producers, economic growth in the country is highly uneven, and the population is still dealing with the legacy of a 27-year civil war after gaining independence from the Portuguese in the 1970s.
“Angola is rich but the problem is corruption. The people don’t see the money, just the government, like the mafia – it’s all for them, the super rich. The rest of us are poor,” he says.
“It’s crazy. I see in the news that people at home don’t have food or water just because of politics. But if you go to the house of the government, they have everything you can imagine. It is a very corrupt and unfair place, and we wanted a better life,” he says.
It’s easier to find a job than a house here now. I moved to Dublin 3 five years ago but it’s very hard to find somewhere and very expensive. Even if you get a viewing you show up and there are 30 or 40 people viewing it too
He arrived in Ireland, with his sister, “with no plan, just for a visit at first”.
“I didn’t have a plan to stay here for a long time. We thought, if we like it, we’ll stay. But we didn’t know what we would think. We thought we would go to England. We never knew anything about Ireland. We just had some friends who gave us the suggestion,” he says.
“A week, a few months, and then years passed. And I’m still here. This is home now. Then more of my family came here, and my child was born here”.
His first impression of Ireland was “that it was so quiet ... The traffic on the roads feels so quiet to me. It was a shock but in a good way”.
“When I first came here and I was walking around with my sister, people would follow us and stare at us and tell us they never met other black people. But that has completely changed now,” he says.
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The first place he lived in was a flat on Seán McDermott Street, which at the time “wasn’t so expensive”.
“That’s also different now – it’s easier to find a job than a house here now. I moved to Dublin 3 five years ago but it’s very hard to find somewhere and very expensive. Even if you get a viewing you show up and there are 30 or 40 people viewing it too,” he says.
“It was very difficult, but I was lucky because a friend of mine was moving out and he asked the landlord if me and my family could move in, and he said yes.”
When Antonio moved to Ireland with so little English, he was “trying to make friends but it was hard because we could only be silent together”, he laughs.
“It also isn’t easy to find work when you don’t have the language because the boss wants you to do something and you’re just looking at them wondering what they’re saying ... But I found porter work through some friends who worked in restaurants.”
“I worked as a kitchen porter for a while. I love working in kitchens. I’m not a chef but I love cooking so I like that kind of work. Now I’m currently looking for a new job,” he says.
I’m not shy to speak to people any more and if I have to fill out any important forms, I’m not afraid or embarrassed answering the questions any more
In his first jobs in Ireland, he was “shy because of my English, even though I’m good at languages”, he says, explaining that he speaks several other languages, including fluent Portuguese, as well as strong French and Spanish, and now English.
“Three years ago a friend told me to go to the Dublin Adult Learning Centre (DALC) with him because he thought it could help me. It was one of the best things I ever did for myself. The past three years have made a big difference in my life,” he says.
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The DALC caters for about 650 adults per year. The majority of its students are early school leavers availing of “second-chance education”.
“I learned to write and read in English. My English has really improved since then. I’m not shy to speak to people any more and if I have to fill out any important forms, I’m not afraid or embarrassed answering the questions any more”.
He attends the college for two hours each morning. He now has a National Framework of Qualifications Level 3 award and “will keep going until I get my level 5″, a level that would allow him to continue into higher education, or “get better jobs”.
“It makes me a lot more confident and helps me to make more friends,” he says, and it has also opened up more opportunities for him. In early April the Dublin Learning City Festival takes place. Antonio is taking part as one of the “learner voices”, highlighting his journey returning to education as an adult.
In his 15 years living in Ireland, he has lived in various parts of Dublin, and “travelled around Ireland visiting different cities like Cork, Limerick, Galway,” he says.
But his favourite place is Fairview Park, “because I have played football there for years”.
“I made many friends in Dublin through football. And I don’t mind the rain and the cold any more. I’m used to it now,” he laughs.
We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the recent past. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @newtotheparish