Soon after Georgina Adu-Boahene arrived on her first visit to Letterkenny, she saw proof it was the perfect place for her young family.
It was a weekday at noon in 2008, and the mother of four was surprised to see students walking along Main Street during their lunch break.
Even more surprising was what happened next.
“At the end of lunch they all walked back to school, none of them were skiving!” Georgina said.
At schools in England where she had lived since moving from Ghana when she was 13, she said, “When children go to school the gates are locked at 9 and not open again until the end of the day. If you’d leave students to go out for lunch, only some of them would come back afterwards.”
As it was their desire to give their children a good start in life that had led Georgina and her husband, Jerode, to Ireland, what they saw that day in Letterkenny made it clear they’d found what they were looking for.
“We found it so lovely, so peaceful, a wonderful place,” Georgina said of the town she now calls home.
Her years in Ireland and England mean Georgina has spent most of her life in Europe, but the foundation she received during her early years in Africa remains a cherished source of strength and inspiration to her.
Material comforts were few in the one-room unit where she and four siblings lived with their grandmother while their parents were away in England, working to pay the children’s tuition at a private school in Ghana.
The sense of community that was part of life in the Ghanaian residential compound, however, made up for the hardships.
“We never had a phone or television, but I had the best childhood,” Georgina said. “After eating at night we played games with other children in the compound. We had loads of activities to keep us busy.”
The love she received from her grandmother, who instilled a strong Catholic faith in Georgina, was another brilliant aspect of life in Ghana.
“I got to know my grandma as my mum,” she said. “My siblings were excited to come to England to join our parents, but I didn’t want to leave my grandma because she was my world.”
Life in England was different in many ways. It was in secondary school there that Georgina experienced racist bullying for the first time. A student who’d been assigned to help address the problem by escorting her to classes only ended up reinforcing her terrible isolation.
“She was nice in a way, but at breaks and lunch she’d say, ‘Don’t follow me’,” Georgina said. “She didn’t want to be seen with the African girl.”
Georgina completed secondary school and her GCSEs, but marriage and motherhood soon afterwards changed her focus forever, ultimately leading to Letterkenny.
In the years since moving here Georgina has become well known through her volunteer community work with the Donegal Intercultural Platform, Donegal Women’s Centre, Letterkenny Community Health Forum, and NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network.
“It gives me a sense of belonging and like I’m putting something back into the community,” she said. “I also feel like I’ve become a spokeswoman for African women in Letterkenny, which I’m very happy to do.”
Georgina has been particularly involved in raising awareness about barriers to employment that Africans and other ethnic minorities encounter in Donegal, including writing a report on the subject for a Level 5 Intercultural Studies course that she took recently. She herself has encountered these barriers, finding it difficult to get past the interview stage in Letterkenny despite years of retail and hospitality sector employment in England.
“People say, ‘You’d have more opportunities in Dublin’,” Georgina said. “My response is, ‘If I wanted such a big, rough place to live, I wouldn’t have moved to Ireland’.”
Overall, however, Georgina’s experiences in Ireland have been positive, including seeing her children thrive both academically and socially, learning how to drive a car, and becoming an Irish citizen at a ceremony in June.
“I’m very proud to call myself an Irish citizen,” she said, “because Ireland is a very good country.”