Shepherd moved to Ireland in 2007 from Zimbabwe, fleeing political persecution and violence under the regime of Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. Shepherd had lived in the town of Gweru for his entire life. He was happily working as a salesperson selling industrial equipment and protective clothing whilst raising two children with his girlfriend, before violence and threats to his safety and life forced him to flee. Since arriving in Ireland, Shepherd has now spent over ten years living in direct provision in Portlaoise.
He is now studying Management Information Technology and Information Systems with DCU Connected through the University of Sanctuary.
“Life in direct provision can be very difficult and boring. The building is an old hotel located 12 kilometres outside of Portlaoise. A shuttle bus goes into the town four times a day, with the last bus home at 4.15pm. The centre provides us with food, we cannot cook for ourselves.
I went from having a job, working every day and having a routine to all of a sudden having that taken away from me and being put in a place where I just sit there. I wanted to be doing something constructive with my time, there is only so much television that you can watch.
At first, we weren’t allowed to study but this has changed in recent years and in 2016/17, I did a FETAC level 5 course in Computer Science in Portlaoise College. After this, I began to apply for Computer Science courses through the CAO. I really wanted to study in DCU but I also knew that even if I did get an offer, I wouldn’t be able to afford to take the place to study.
Then one day, the receptionist in the centre called me over and showed me a notice that DCU was offering scholarships as part of the University of Sanctuary initiative. I was both surprised and delighted that something like this was happening. The fact that it was DCU made me especially excited as this was where I had wanted to study.
I applied in August 2017 to study Management of Information Technology and Information Systems and did a phone interview two weeks later. Then, I will always remember the date, on 7th September, I received an email to say that my application was successful.
Being able to study with DCU Connected through the University of Sanctuary has completely changed me. I am a totally different person now that I wake up every day knowing I have something to do, it has given me purpose.
I try to study every day. I log on to Loop and my materials for each month are there. Although it can be difficult trying to study and sharing a room in Portlaoise, I am enjoying every day. I am studying something that I enjoy and learning a lot of new things. In Portlaoise College, I only did the beginnings of programming but now we are going deeper into it. It is also brilliant to have the social outlet and to meet up with my classmates when I have tutorials once per month. I have always found it easy to make friends and I love the mix of people in my class.
This opportunity means a lot to me. I always wanted to go to university and I am really enjoying the challenge so far. Even before I was in Portlaoise, I used to dream about going back to study so the University of Sanctuary is helping me to fulfil a long held dream. I am so happy every day that I am coming to DCU, all of my friends in Portlaoise would love to apply for this when they see how excited I am.”