Two accounts in tandem from the two women to whom CeSAU owes it's existence.
I arrived in Glasgow over 44 years ago from Ghana via Boston Massachusetts, where I had spent two years working. Racism abounded -considering the backdrop of slavery and segregation of black from white, but I did not particularly experience any
form of racism or discrimination in the hospitals where I worked, rather, facilities were made available for all staff to further develop their professional and social skills.
With that in mind, I arrived in Scotland with a positive mindset. The Midwifery school at the then Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital, Rottenrow was equally welcoming and encouraged students to excel and we did.
Challenges began when I started training in the Maternity wards.
There were innumerable instances of mistrust for African trained nurses from both the professionals and some patients; these included soul destroying criticisms, name calling, negative comments, intimidation and serious bullying. It felt as if I was being chewed to bits inside, and my professional training had not prepared me for any of it. Consequently, my confidence and self–worth were reduced to nil and fear and anxiety became my constant companions. I was miserable and alone.
However, instead of wallowing in self- pity, I decided to do something about it. I had met a few African trained nurses most of them doing agency work in my hospital. As I became familiar with them, I realized that I was not alone in my adversity, people were afraid to complain because they would be seen as weak or trouble makers so, they suffered in silence. The new group decided to meet once in a month to provide support and comfort to each other. The group was efficient on delivering the much needed succuor as we quickly realised that despite being individuals, we shared a lot of similar experiences. After a year, we decided to include other African and Caribbean women. The group expanded to form the ongoing
African Caribbean Women Association - (ACWA) Glasgow.
The turning point for me was when I started to network within larger minority communities and learnt how some minority groups had come together to improve their lot. I worked briefly with Mrs. Maggie Chetty of the then Glasgow Community Relations Council, now WSREC. It broadened my community experiences.
Another turning point was when I joined NALGO, and later UNISON. I took away key lessons on how to fight for my rights and not be afraid or intimidated when facing discrimination.
So, when I left Midwifery to become an employee at the Strathclyde Regional Council’s Race Equality Unit, I wasn’t afraid. In fact, I felt empowered – my commitment to community engagement, particularly, to the empowerment of African women and children within Scotland was boundless! I called it madness, because it became my life's mission to help fellow women; come what may, to get information and gain confidence so as to limit bad experiences due to racism and discrimination at work and within communities. Suffice to say that it was an arduous task trying to change mindsets – some African men were of the view that I was indoctrinating their women. They were not easy years for both my daughter and I.
Upon retiring from local government employment, I moved to Stirlingshire. Where I was dormant for a year then started looking out for women or African community organizations to join. I never saw any African walking the streets of Stirling as was common in Glasgow. I also didn’t have personal connections in Stirlingshire, but remembered that my friend Maya Varyiani worked at Stirling Council as the Ethnic Minorities Advisor. I contacted her and found that Maya ran the Stirling Multi Cultural Partnership (SMCP) at the time and she was equally keen to have Africans on board. I didn’t know any African in Stirling so she invited Priscilla Maramba. Priscilla in turn invited us to speak at her church in Stirling. It was a pleasant surprise, we met a very receptive and large congregation. The rest in the history books.
With word of mouth, the group increased in size and enthusiasm and a call was made to formalize the group so we could apply to join the SMCP. Maya and I were the administrators then. At our first meeting at Stirling Council offices, we voted to call the group CENTRAL SCOTLAND AFRICAN UNION - CeSAU.
Priscilla accepted the job of the first Chair Person. I declined a post because I was seriously unwell then, and I was happy to support the group with my Glasgow experiences from the backbenchers. I was however, totally committed to seeing the inclusion of Africans in all areas of Stirling communities and services. I became the Chair after Priscilla resigned her leadership later on as her responsibilities grew elsewhere. Like any new organization, we had our teething problems, especially when personal interests conflicted with our aims and objectives, However we are still her alive, kicking and continuing to create a positive social impact in Central Scotland.
Life before the formation of CeSAU comprised of bringing up children, work and church. Outside this there was pretty much nothing.
When I came to live in Stirling from Wolverhampton, England, the first thing that struck me was the absence of Black Africans where I was working. None of them working in local shops, Council or banks. There was not even an African shop or an African business premise and I felt that this was very wrong because I was aware of a lot of Black Africans living in Stirling. Knowing that my family would be here for the long term, I knew my children would need role models who looked like them in public roles, for them to equally feel that Stirling was a place where they could grow and thrive. So, I decided to actively do something about this lack of representation and spoke to a Council worker who was supporting me with a different issue. Her name was Maya Varyiani and she worked with Ethnic Minorities in Stirling and said she would help. She advised me that there was another person who she had spoken to about this but they had both concluded that it would not work as there were no Black Africans in Stirling. That is how invisible we were. I advised her that there were a lot of Black Africans who I personally knew and this came as a surprise to her. The Council worker then organised a meeting where she introduced me to Meg and we agreed to start work to establish an African community group with the Council worker’s help.
The goal was to reduce isolation, help with integration into Scotland, provide an opportunity for people to meet, socialise, share experiences, build confidence, learn from each other and get information on appropriate services that they could access.
We gathered the people and held our first meeting to choose the committee. I was chosen to be the Chair and held this position for 5 years. I had never been a Chair or Committee Member before and I had to learn on the job. We had our challenges but we kept going and grew to a point where we decided to become a registered Charity. We held a lot of activities with a focus on our children. We began to be invited to other community groups’ events which was great.
Being involved in CeSAU has been an exciting and rewarding journey particularly seeing us being recognised in the community, our children growing in confidence, friendships being established, people supporting each other and sharing experiences and accessing local services through the networks.