International Women’s Day | Who Is Ellie Kisyombe?

On this International Women’s Day 2018 we celebrate women who are making change and helping a community come together over food and sustenance within the inhumane system of Direct Provision (DP). Ellie Kisyombe has lived in Direct Provision for 8 years as an asylum seeker with her children.

Her desire to move beyond the boundaries of the system and build something positive out of this experience has led her to bring together asylum seekers and individuals who want to see the end of this appalling system.

Ellie Kisyombe, supported by others, founded Our Table, which is an organisation in Dublin that seeks to not only raise awareness of what Direct Provision is but to end the system. Ellie works tirelessly to bring about awareness of what the Direct Provision system does to the refugees and asylum seekers confined to live within it. Direct Provisions seriously tarnishes Ireland’s image on the world stage and is absolutely hypocritical for a country that suffered for years under a very similar apartheid.

People caught up in the direct provision system are being denied hope by the State and forced to live in a system which is worse than prison. Former judge Dr. Bryan McMahon said anyone forced to live in a system that denied them the right to work or study and determined almost every aspect of their life without any indication as to when their circumstances might change “would go mad”. Some of them said to me: “I would prefer to be in jail because I would have a definite sentence and I would know when I was getting out.’” (Dr McMahon chaired the first official Irish government inquiry into Direct Provision in 2014).

Direct Provision is a system that negates and erases an asylum seekers history and life experiences. Food is a major component of a person’s cultural and religious practices and this fact is undermined by the DP system.

Food doesn’t just sustain our bodies, food sustains our souls, joins us in friendship and kinship and provides our communities with ways to interact, come to understand each other and unites us in ways that are not at first glance obvious.

Ellie Kisyombe -

Food has a knack for bringing people together, forging bonds and creating conversation. Food is the centerpiece of our lives; it is how neighbours welcome us into their communities by sharing gifts of food. In our homes, it’s how we bring our families together to converse and make sure all is well. It is how we share our cultural traditions with our children and families and everyone knows that the kitchen is the heart of a home.

But what happens to people when they don’t have the ability to feed or cook for themselves? What happens to our communities when people are stuck eating three meals a day provided for them by a catering company?
How does a family carry their cultural traditions into the future without the ability to sit around a kitchen table and prepare and share food with their families and friends?

Direct Provision (DP) is in a very real sense internment and it destroys individuals, children, families and potentially invaluable additions to the Irish community.  The impact on women is particularly insidious as it destroys a mother’s ability to comfort, provide for and support her family.

Ellie Kisyombe and Michelle Darmody, met through a “shared belief that a conversation needed to be started about Direct Provision, and the idea that food was a good way to get that conversation started”, began Our Table in 2015.

Ellie Kisyombe -

Our Table is a nonprofit organization whose goals are as follows:

  • To End Direct Provision in Ireland
  • To provide disadvantaged migrants with an independent income and opportunities to find permanent employment
  • To develop people’s existing culinary skills in a professional setting, in order to give them the confidence, support, and practical experience necessary to start their own food businesses or gain employment in others
  • To reduce social isolation and foster community through collective enterprise
  • To preserve and celebrate various recipes and diverse cultural heritages.

As Ellie Kisyombe says, “I have been robbed of 8 years; my children have been robbed and lost their childhood, but I need to build something for the future of my family and all asylum seekers and refugees.” Ellie’s generosity of spirit and her dedication and commitment to ending Direct Provision is inspiring and humbling.
Ellie Kisyombe currently doesn’t have any funding for the project but keeps it going through the support of the Irish Refugee Council, and Third Space which issocial enterprise that runs eating and meeting places that act as community hubs. Support also comes from The Good Food Store and Christ Church Cathedral. Funding is very difficult to obtain for a project like this because even after 8 years in Dublin, Ellie Kisyombe has no legal status.

Our Table was recently given space by Christ Church Market  to run a pop up cafe for 6 weeks from early February. Ellie Kisyombe and Our Table are now looking forward to creating a space at the St. Patrick’s Festival and taking part in the St. James Hospital summer food market.

As Ellie says it is “pure love of life is in what we share with others”. Please help support this life changing initiative and lend your voice to the fight against Direct Provision. You can find Our Table on the following Social Media Channels.

Twitter: @ourtabledublin