A 32-year-old mother of one has spoken for the first time of the harrowing events in her home country of Kenya forced her to seek refuge in Derry, and why she’s now delighted to be able to call the city home.
Lilian Seenoi, who now lives in Ardgrange, was recognised by Derry City Council after being awarded Woman of the Year in the prestigious ‘Women on the Move’ awards in London last week.
She told the Journal this week that she was delighted with the award, and had never told anyone in Derry, apart from her partner Paul, about the events in her home country which led to her coming here.
Working as an activist for womens’ rights in Kenya, Lilian rescued approximately 5000 girls from early arranged marriage, being forced out of education and Female Genital Mutilation. Her work faced stiff opposition from some men within the Maasai tradition and she was threatened numerous times and warned to stop her work. It was when threats were made against her then eight year old autistic son Brian however, that Lilian decided it was time to take Brian and find somewhere safe for them to live.
She had met her partner Paul, along with other volunteers from Derry and the North West when they were volunteering in Kenya. They were Lilian’s only link here but she decided to travel to Derry when it was no longer safe for her and her son to remain in Kenya.
Since then, Lilian has set up the North West Migrants Forum and provided help for asylum seekers and migrants who come to live here and she’s currently studying for her degree in Community Development at Magee.
“I feel so at home in Derry now, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Lilian.
Derry’s Mayor, Councillor Martin Reilly congratulated Lilian on her UK wide accolade adding that it is a great achievement that she is the first female winner from Northern Ireland.
“The aim of the awards is to highlight that migrant and refugee women make an exceptional contribution to our society. The awards are organised and presented by three organisations. A London based group called ‘The Forum’ which works with migrants in London, The UK wide NGO ‘Migrants’ Rights Network’ and the Office of the United Nations High commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It is a great recognition for the help that Lilian has provided for thousands of women in her country and the work she continues to do with Migrant workers here across the city. She is a great ambassador representing minority groups in this city,” he said.
Lilian says it continues to be difficult for migrants who come to Derry because of a number of inaccurate perceptions about why they are here and that her goal, through the North West Migrants’ Forum is to provide people who are trying to make a home here the support they need in Derry, rather than having to travel to Belfast to get information.
Read the full and fascinating story of Lilian’s life in Kenya and her journey to Derry in this weekend’s Sunday Journal.