Voices of Ballynafeigh – Tiwalade Olatunbosun, Volunteer at Belfast City of Sanctuary

Where are you from and how long have you been in Belfast?

I come from Nigeria, from the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, and I have been in Northern Ireland for almost 3 years, 2 years and 9 months.

What brought you to Belfast?

My reason for coming was more of a sacrifice for my kids. Where we were coming from wasn’t so friendly, we had a harsh life, and I wanted them to grow up in a comfortable environment, just having the basic good things in life like electricity and running water. So it was majorly for my kids.

Everyone coming to the UK from Nigeria always wants to go to London, Birmingham, Manchester. All these funky places where you have loads of Nigerians. When I was deciding where to relocate I was reading a lot, and maybe if I wouldn’t have gone to Belfast! I just tried to find somewhere with a low maintenance life, not too expensive, and where there is a bit of sanity when you are raising your kids.

Me being all by myself and raising the kids, I wanted somewhere where I feel like they are grounded, and I feel like my voice is heard, and I feel comfortable that even if they go out I know they are safe.

Was Belfast the same as you expected?

Well as soon as we got here, after barely a month or two the whole world went into lockdown, so I actually don’t feel like I’ve really known Belfast like that, because I spent the whole of 2020 indoors, half of 2021 also indoors.

I think I’m just getting to know the city, this is the first full year that I’ve been able to go out and I’m not even sure I’ve scratched the surface yet.

The few people that I have met so far have been quite welcoming, quite nice. I’m an extrovert but with introvert qualities, so I haven’t been out very much, I’ve still never been to a pub here. But I’m a people person, so I like to work on projects with people, and just do things to make people happy, it keeps me going.

How long have you been volunteering with Belfast City of Sanctuary?

I met them last year, after the restrictions had been dropped. It’s been an amazing journey with them, I’ve met nice people, people who you can talk to, reliable people who you can just call on when you need help.

Then I was asked if I wanted to volunteer and I said yes, so I’ve done a few things with them. I helped with a conference, with the refugee picnic, coffee mornings, just anything they need that I am able to help with.

I also volunteer with Schools of Sanctuary, we visit schools and have meetings there. I also just joined Libraries of Sanctuary as well, because we’re trying to set that up. Just anything that is available, because I have time to myself!

Do you think Belfast is a welcoming place?

Yes it is, I have benefited and my kids have benefited from it in one way or another, no matter how small. It’s a welcoming place and they are doing a great job.

Even beside City of Sanctuary, you meet people along the way who are just nice pockets of people, but you also need to know how to find them.

What can people do to make Belfast more welcoming?

I have only met one of my neighbours, so in that sense we need to do more, even just saying hello on the street. I have said hello to some people who just look away, but in general I think there is a culture here where people will smile at you and say hello, and even let you pet their dog. I have been to England a few times, and people aren’t as friendly there.

I also think Belfast will be more welcoming if there is less division, and everyone sees themselves as one. We need to push our differences aside and love one another.