‘If you change the life of a person, you can see the changes in the life after you empowered them’
2018-07-16 14:16:25 -
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By Lexi Stroud

Changing the lives of migrants is an everyday task for Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) co-ordinator Sancha Magat.

Originally from the Philippines, Magat came to Ireland in April of 1999 as a volunteer with the Columban Missionaries to do church-based work in Dublin communities. She had no intention of staying in Ireland and becoming a migrant worker in the long term.

That was until the Columbans started the MRCI in 2001. “After three years of being involved in the development [of the MRCI], volunteering and being a part of all the types of work, when they got external funding they offered for me to stay here as a caseworker,” Magat says.

It marked quite a change from her life in the Philippines, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and dreamed of traveling around the world. While Magat says she never expected to become a migrant worker in Ireland, her work at the MRCI has given her a chance to see more of the world than she ever expected.

“Even though I’m not moving around too much, I can relate to the people of different nationalities,” she says. “It’s a very good experience because I can learn from them. Only now am I realising that, yes, I did want to travel around the world, but in the drop-in centre the world is moving around me, because I’m meeting at least in a month 135 nationalities.”

When she joined the Columban Missionaries, Magat’s focus was on justice and peace from a faith-based approach. Now at the MRCI, she says she is able to be directly involved with helping migrants improve their lives from a policy-based angle.

“Every person that I help here … even little things that changed their life and empowered them, I feel like that’s my achievement, I’d say. It keeps me going every day.”

Magat adds: “I enjoy this type of work in particular because … if you change the life of a person, you can see the changes in the life after you empowered them.”

As much as she helps others, however, Magat faced her own set of challenges when moving across the world to Ireland 19 years ago.

“At first, you have to get to know how the system works,” she says. “Especially for me, I had to step back and observe, because I am an action person, I needed to see how things are done first. My way was different; I was bringing the Filipino way at the time.”

Magat emphasises that Ireland is a very welcoming place for newcomers and welcomed her with open arms. There is a common denominator in Ireland that creates a level of equality from the ordinary people to the policy makers of the country, she says — something that’s much different to how it is in the Philippines. Magat speaks of a bureaucracy that often prevents the voices of the Filipino people from being heard. “In Ireland, here, the bureaucracy you can stay away from, and still you have the opportunity for your voice to be heard here,” she says.

Life in Ireland has shaped Magat’s view of politicians and of government, but most importantly of herself. Living on her own over the last two decades, she says she empowered her own voice through her work with migrants.

“As a woman, it affects the way that I empower myself, because I help others and then with that I am confident to help others because I am empowered,” Magat says. “I see my capabilities and strengths and have the confidence to help and empower others. I am more confident now, and as a woman I am very empowered.”

Another source of power for Magat, besides her love for the work done at the MRCI, is her camaraderie with her co-workers. “I consider some of the Irish people [I work with] my family, because I’ve been here at the centre for a long time, really, I have seen these people grow.”

Magat encourages migrants like her to get to know the wider community in their new home. She expresses the importance of learning more than just the language and the geography of their new place, but to also talk to the people and learn the problems of Ireland, too.

“I have often seen people that have been here for 15-19 years and you ask them about what’s happening in Ireland and they know everything about home and not about Ireland.” But reaching out of their own community will help migrants become a part of Ireland, she says.

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