Felicia Olima reflects on 18 years of Citas College
2014-07-01 00:14:35 -

In 1996, on a rented desk space with two computers and a telephone, Felicia Olima founded Citas College.

Eighteen years later, to the present day, and its premises in Dublin’s bustling city centre are a vision of modern architecture and design – a testament to its founder’s persistence.

Olima moved to Dublin from Nigeria in the 1970s to study at Trinity College, and upon graduation set out to join the workforce, but was turned down by numerous employers with the explanation that “customers wouldn’t respond well to a black person on their team”. Undeterred, she set out to prove them wrong.

“I started with a research company to see if people would respond differently to me,” she says. “So I did door-to-door marketing, and I ended up getting more response than the Irish guys!”

Inspired to change

Inspired to make a change in discrimination against foreign jobseekers, Olima began to work with an organisation providing training in international trade before she had the idea to open Citas College, the first non-Irish school in Dublin.

“I started it with just two computers, so it’s like you’re the owner, manager, teacher, telephone operator, everything!” she says. “So I was doing virtually everything for about three years, and then after that I had to only teach and manage.”

The college’s mission is to provide “high quality, relevant and varied educational programmes and opportunities for intellectual, cultural and personal growth.” With courses such as business, marketing and international trade, combined with general English, the college is a perfect fit for foreign students to seeking to become professionals in the Irish workforce.

Not just a school - a family

But for most of its students, says Olima, Citas College is not just a school – it’s a family.

“During the time we started, there was very little in Ireland. It was difficult,” she tells Metro Éireann. “Gradually, many people were coming in as refugees and coming to work. There was a lot of hostility towards foreigners.

“Citas was like a home away from home. The students would bring in their friends, relatives, and it became a family. They behave very well and welcome each other. That spirit is something that is unique; you can’t buy it.”

That sense of family isn’t the only thing that sets Citas apart from other schools, says Olima.

“We are there to train students, so we must provide that training. We’re not just there to make money. If we can break even, we’re doing well, and we keep going. And if a student is not able to pay, the student is not costing us extra, he’s just part of the class. If there’s a space, we’ll slot them in. Not everyone qualifies for a Government grant.”

Not only hailed by her students, Olima has been recognised by the State for her efforts. In 2001 she was awarded the Inter-City Enterprise Award in 2001, presented by the Minister Of State at the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, for her work with the college in providing training for students trying to get back to work.

What the future holds

But after 18 years of hard work, change in her personal life prompted Olima to take a step back. Earlier this year her husband, a medical doctor, fell ill. Olima planned to retire from managing and teaching at Citas to move back to Nigeria with him. Sadly he died in March, but Olima continued with her planned retirement, finishing at Citas on Friday 30 May.

“It’s really strange,” she says of her retirement. “I’m just taking it a little bit easy, one day at a time.”

Citas College was sold to Enamul Kabir and Yue Gu, two businessmen who have promised to continue the school’s tradition of welcoming students into the family.

“We hope the new people that have taken over will carry on with the tradition,” says Olima. “I think there’s still a future for Citas.”

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