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“I was 13 the first time I was placed in an emergency homeless shelter”

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Placed in an emergency homeless shelter at 13, pregnant at 14, it may seem that the odds were stacked against Deborah Somorin.
Now in her final year of training as a Senior Associate in PwC, Deborah looks back on the hard work and bravery – and the lifeline of support from Focus Ireland – that lifted her out of the cycle of poverty and beat the statistics.
She tells The Daily Slog about her mission to help other young adults on the same path. 

 

Sometimes I look back and wonder how things could have turned out. How I’d feel if I didn’t have my home? What life would be like for my son? Whether or not I’ve had gone to college or secured my dream job? It’s obviously impossible to tell. But what I do know is that without the support of some amazing people I wouldn’t be where I am today.   

My name is Deborah Somorin, I’m 24 and I want to tell you my story. It is a story that I feel so lucky to tell. When you’re a child everything seems so permanent. You know how you spend your days. You know the people in your life. You know your home. Everything you know has always been there. It is where you feel safe. I was ten when I lost this feeling. I moved to Ireland with my mum. My mum was a strong woman.

Like every mother she wanted to give her children safety and security. Starting from scratch in a new country and culture, she began building a new life for us. However, what none of us knew, was that mum had been suffering from depression for a long time. Now, alone in a new country, she felt like she had no one to ask for help. Everything became too much for her.  

 

Still a child, I went from my normal life, to sleeping in emergency shelters, behind locked doors for my own safety.

 

It was such a hard time for her and she couldn’t manage. For me it was also very scary. Almost in the blink of an eye, my relationship with my mum broke down and I was placed in and out of state care for a number of years.

For children, State care means either living with foster families or in residential centers but sometimes it also means living in emergency homeless accommodation such as homeless shelters. I was 13 the first time I was placed in an emergency homeless shelter. It is very hard to describe how this felt. Still a child, I went from my normal life, to sleeping in emergency shelters, behind locked doors for my own safety.

I saw other children going to school and eating in restaurants with their parents. For them everything seemed so sure, so certain. I remember how painful it felt. Seeing this world from so close up, yet feeling like it was so far away. I felt tossed around by the constant change.

I eventually moved into a private residential care home. I was 14 but in this chaotic time I became pregnant. I remember the day in school when everyone found out. I was doing my Junior Cert and due to morning sickness, I had to keep running out of my English paper. It was so embarrassing and it drove me away from school. By the time my beautiful baby boy arrived I had settled in my residential home. While this was obviously a very challenging time for me, it helped me focus on what was important. I knew that I didn’t want our difficult circumstances to decide our future.

 

Literally on your 18th birthday you go from having a home and being supported by a team of carers, to looking for houses on Daft by yourself and trying to figure out your new confusing world.

 

When you’re so young, finding your own way can be hard without your family’s advice and guidance. I remember a day a teacher asked for a chat. I’d decided I wanted to go straight into fifth year after third year. I was eager to move forward. However, my teacher, someone I looked up to and respected, said that I should do fourth year instead. Her reason was that I probably wasn’t going to do my Leaving Certificate… because I had a child.

Looking back, I’m so happy that I didn’t change my mind. I felt torn but something inside told me I couldn’t think like this. I knew I had to make a better life for myself and my son. Education was going to be my path.

I also knew that over the next couple of years I was going to have to leave my care home. I wanted to find a way to go college but I was worried what would happen when I turned 18. In many cases, literally on your 18th birthday you go from having a home and being supported by a team of carers, to looking for houses on Daft by yourself and trying to figure out your new confusing world. It’s a very lonely experience.

Suddenly all the people in your life are gone. There is nobody there and the supports you’ve known disappear as well. If you’re not prepared, it can all happen so fast. Far too fast for many young people I knew.

 

I can see how things can turn upside down very quickly. Our lives can take a sudden turn and without the right supports or assistance it can be very hard to get back on track.

 

This is how Focus Ireland came into my life again. Focus Ireland works with young people through a number of innovative youth projects. One I experienced firsthand is Aftercare. Aftercare supports young people as they move from State care into independence at 18. In essence, it’s both practical and emotional support, which means you don’t have to face the world alone.

Aftercare is so important because any young person, without family support, would struggle with the sole responsibility for rent, bills, personal security and everything else. When you consider, it’s an 18-year old who has had a troubled background. You need help.

For me, the Aftercare service soon became a vital support and something I relied on. My case worker was called Emma and she was always on the end of a phone. As well as advice and guidance, she gave me emotional support. She understood where I wanted to go and helped me find the right path.

With Emma’s help, I secured a long term home for me and my son, and obtained the support I needed to go to college. I went to DCU through the DCU Access programme to study accounting and finance, my first choice. On my first day I couldn’t believe how far I’d come. Even when I was very little I had always said I wanted to be an accountant. However, sometimes the future I’d dreamed of had felt out of reach.

 

I know that now that I have options. These options were so nearly taken from me, but thanks to hard work and amazing people around me, I earned them back.

 

What I had once taken for granted had faded against what was going on in my life. Now, I appreciate how lucky I am. I can see how things can turn upside down very quickly. Our lives can take a sudden turn and without the right supports or assistance it can be very hard to get back on track.

We all need a helping hand. We need people to stand with us. This is what Focus Ireland gave me and why I ask people to support them. 

With the security of a home, I completed my degree but I knew I wanted to do a masters. Even years after Emma had officially stopped being my Aftercare worker, she was still getting in touch and helping me think about my career options and the path I would take. She had come to understand me and knew what I wanted.

I thankfully received a scholarship from CRH plc to study a Master’s and graduated with honours. Aged 22, I received job offers from two of the world’s leading accountancy firms. Today at 24 I have just passed my final admitting exams to Chartered Accountants Ireland on first attempt and I am in the third and final year of my chartered accountant training as a Senior Associate in PwC.

It has all gone so fast and I am amazed at how far I’ve come. I know that the road ahead of me is still full of challenges but I know that now, I have options. These options were so nearly taken from me, but thanks to hard work and amazing people around me, I earned them back. I know I owe a massive thank you to Focus Ireland, Dun na Nog, DCU and CRH plc for being there for me when I needed them most. Their support and faith in me enabled me to become who I am today and I want to support others in the same way.

 

Empower the Family Out of Homelessness

Empower the Family is a not for profit that aims to break the poverty and homeless cycle in disadvantaged communities for generations through removing barriers to accessing higher education.

The main aim of the charity is to break the two extrinsic barriers by opening student accommodation with affordable quality childcare for lone parents between 18-23 in third level education.

There is no student accommodation for lone parents in Ireland with a crèche in the same building. At least one space will be ring fenced for a lone parent in homeless accommodation and another for those transitioning out of state care. We aim to have one of these student accommodations in every county in Ireland where there is a university.

 

PwC have been amazingly supportive and this is where the importance of having an ally in the workplace comes in

 

Thanks to the support of Joanelle O’Cleirigh, a Partner at Arthur Cox, the legal firm have partnered with Empower the Family to undertake all of our legal services pro bono – an amazing show of confidence in what we are trying to achieve.

Similarly PwC have been amazingly supportive and this is where the importance of having an ally in the workplace comes in particularly. Our Managing Partner Feargal O’Rourke has been amazingly supportive and I’m going to go ahead and say that may in part be down to being raised by an amazing outspoken woman called Mary O’Rourke.

PwC have offered pro bono advisory services to our company and all of the partners have provided invaluable advice and support while I go on this journey of becoming a social entrepreneur.

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