Mariaam Bhatti

Community Development and Outreach Worker
Doras Luimni
Limerick City
BA (Hons) Community and Youth Work
Currently Master of Social Science(Rights and Social Policy)

Highlighting my time in Maynooth can never be complete without me starting with explaining how exciting it was to be invited to interviews, accepted and to experience my first day in Maynooth. I embraced everything completely. I won't pretend I had an easy time at all. I had a scholarship kindly offered by three amazing Irish women who put their monies together and paid my tuition fees which were non-Irish fees and high. However, I had to work two and sometimes three part time jobs the whole three years I was doing my undergrad. In my second year there were times I felt like quitting my early morning cleaning job which I did for two to three hours every morning before going to college. Overall I survived it due to the warmth and support of the Applied Social Studies Department, student services, staff, heath centre staff and fellow students in the course. Today I look back and know that it didn't just happen. I don't know if I can swear that I would have got the same support elsewhere. Maybe, maybe not.

My scholarship was from private sponsors but I appeared in the One Foundation Scholars list as my sponsors were affiliated with the organisation.

The warmth of the staff and support was just amazing. Also as a mature student I didn't feel I had to pretend I afforded a sandwich everyday. The university and the department were inclusive in this sense. There were places with microwaves and kettles for those who could only afford to bring their own lunches from home.

To start with, that people can be anything they dream to be and can stay in education if they get the tailored support they need. I've also gained knowledge, skills and enhanced my values, everything that is needed to work with and empower marginalised groups to be their own voices and advocates in relation to issues facing them in their own communities or life in general. We all are capable of this, but sometimes we need a little help here or there and encouragement that we are capable.

It is a life-changing degree. It is not something you can do in college and leave it there at the end of the lecture. It is something that once you do it, it goes everywhere with you. This degree does not allow you to continue seeing injustices and inequalities and be a spectator, it urges you to intervene even when 'off-duty'. Working with marginalised groups on its own can be tough. Witnessing people totally excluded from decision making structures can make you angry but witnessing long term  impact of that can be shattering and a lot to take for many people but thankfully we also had support in the department in terms of minding ourselves during this line of work. Overall it is very rewarding and makes one connected to the wider world.

I currently work as Community Development and Outreach Worker and I've been in this job since August 2015, two months before graduating. It didn't come as a huge surprise because I had been working in the community work field in Migrants Rights Centre Ireland on voluntary basis before I studied in Maynooth so I had experience and the qualification on the way. Prior to this I worked part-time as a cleaner and before that full-time as a childminder, work that I did since my arrival in Ireland in 2010, which taught me so much. Prior to coming to Ireland, I worked in the education and training sector in South Africa for years.

Current work involves reaching out to migrant workers and communities faced with various issues. Mainly it is to provide information and advice on their rights and entitlements of various issues they bring. It also entails making them develop an analysis of why things are happening the way they do for them. It doesn't end there, it goes on to create opportunities for them to participate in so they can be part of bringing change in their own lives. 
We also support victims of trafficking for forced labour and sexual exploitation in accessing support they need to begin the recovery period and starting new lives. Sometimes we support people to bring their cases to the Labour Court where they have been unfairly dismissed, unpaid for work they did or simply enslaved. There is also policy work contribution opportunities in the role.

There is nothing as rewarding as being part of transforming someone's life through showing them how to do things for themselves especially to people who don't think they have rights as humans even if it is showing them steps to write a letter to their landlord or an immigration officer who has so much power over them. To see the results and them doing the same for another person is incredible. But even more incredible is managing to get such a group of people to collectively, peacefully, strategically and successfully take action about issues that affect them - that is priceless.

Like any jobs it has its challenges. The sector is constantly under funding cuts and that means organisations are usually overstretched to be able to function meaningfully. Governments do not like being challenged over neglecting some groups in society, therefore those who do so, sometimes get excluded from government funding.