Direct provision is home for 160 health workers, writes Ellen Coyne
When Taiwo Ayinde got home from work, her children knew to stay away from her.
Ms Ayinde, who is from Nigeria and lives in a direct provision centre in Ballyhaunis, worked as a home carer.
After arriving home, she would take off her uniform and put it straight into the washing machine. Then, she would go to the bathroom to wash herself "from head to toe". "Then, I could hug my children," she said.
Ms Ayinde is one of the 160 healthcare workers living in direct provision.
When Covid-19 first hit, Ms Ayinde was still going house-to-house in the small Mayo town, looking after older people who needed assistance.
At first, she was afraid of bringing the virus home to her three-year-old and nine-year-old boys. But she couldn't imagine staying away.
"I love my job so much. It's my passion, it gives me joy to take care of someone. It makes me feel complete," Ms Ayinde said.
It broke her heart to see how fearful her clients were becoming. Older people in tears would ask her, "are you going to leave me?" after they heard fewer healthcare staff were turning up to work.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Ms Ayinde said she was struggling to balance childcare and her job, but she was doing everything she could to make it work.
"I cannot stay at home, doing nothing, when my job is waiting for me. No," she said.
"It's not easy with children, but we have to do what we have to do."
Two days later, Ms Ayinde phoned the Irish Independent in tears. Because of Covid-19, a friend in the direct provision centre that she'd been relying on for childcare was no longer available and Ms Ayinde wasn't able to arrange anything else. She had to give up her job.
"A piece of me is missing," she said. "I'm devastated."
People in direct provision were only given the right to work in Ireland in 2018. Many centres are based in rural towns where there are not many jobs, so asylum seekers can often train to become home carers or nursing home staff.
Ms Ayinde said being able to work had saved her life.
"If they hadn't given us a work permit, I don't think I would be talking to you now. I don't think I would be alive today. It has been very hard for me," she said.
"I was caged. I was like someone who was in prison. I was thinking of committing suicide. But in Nigeria, we believe we are strong. No matter what happens to us, we can make it."
Healthcare workers in direct provision are struggling with childcare amid Covid-19 as much and if not more so than other healthcare workers.
This is combined with the risk of living in a large residential setting during a pandemic. A fifth of all centres have had Covid-19 outbreaks.
Sindi Siwe (35) lives in the same direct provision centre and works in Brookvale Manor nursing home in Ballyhaunis.
Ms Siwe, from Zimbabwe, has two children but has a good friend to look after them for her.
Ms Siwe came into contact with a Covid-19 case and is self-isolating. She misses the residents in the nursing home, and said she's worried about them.
"They cannot see their families, which is making it worse. It's like their lives are shattered. It is so sad, they are so worried," she said.
"We take our time, spend a few minutes with them, try to give them hope."
Ms Siwe said she loves talking to older people, and her job has been a huge help as she waits in direct provision to find out if she will be granted her papers.
She said that before she worked, she struggled to pass the days in direct provision.
"Time, I used to see it move so slowly. I used to be so depressed," she said.
"I was sinking. I went crazy looking for a job to just get myself out of the house. Thank God it didn't take me long to find one. That's when my mind started clearing up."
Nurul Shafinas, known as Rita to her friends, is eagerly waiting to get back to work after contracting Covid-19 in a nursing home she works in.
Her direct provision centre is based in a small town in a rural part of Ireland.
Ms Shafinas is a 37-year-old mother of four from Malaysia, who has been living in direct provision for three and a half years.
She did a course to get a nursing home job, and is also now studying business administration and marketing.
"I tried to do something better for myself, rather than sit at home. And because in the morning, all my children go to school and I don't have anything to do," Ms Shafinas said.
"It's very tough to find a job in [my town]. But I thought, 'let me do any job, anything, that can give me a good reference and help me save for the kids' future'."
She is self-isolating while she recovers from Covid-19, but is keen to go back to work because she knows the nursing home is short-staffed.
Ms Shafinas said that going through Covid-19 in direct provision was a "very, very scary time".
"I was thinking, 'Oh my God, am I going to die? Who is going to look after my four children if I have to go to hospital?' I was so worried because I am here with no family, nobody with me. I was so scared," she said.
"I would try to sleep as late as I could, until my eyes could not open. I was so scared to sleep."