SOME people do walking or running for fun, others do it as part of a leisure activity. People do walking as a daily natural occurrence; they must walk up and down the stairs or to the village centre to buy some fresh groceries.
Millions walk for a reason.
They are walking fast to run away from war. Europeans saw it on their doorstep several times, the brutal 1990s civil war in the Former Yugoslavia being one of them. Millions walked and ran a tightrope of risks everywhere from pursuing German and Allied troops. These walks are not games. These walks will continue forever.
Here in Belfast, you will meet hundreds of people, passing them daily without knowing and understanding their true stories of escaping conflict. Women are always at the top of the most directly persecuted either directly or indirectly. It is not a cliché.
Some of these women who did the walk are here in Ireland fighting hard to have a new life. They founded a community group called Bomoko.
The group was founded to represent the voice of refugee women. In Lingala, a Congolese language, bomoko means unity or togetherness. So as a voice for migrant women, refugees and asylum seekers who are living in Northern Ireland, the group works closely with many other stakeholders and local groups in Northern Ireland. The charity group has 76 registered members and is growing.
Their activities are totally voluntary. They would like more women to join so the group can have a wider reach to refugee and asylum seeker compatriots during this health crisis facing communities.
Recently, Bomoko women joined hands to start producing face coverings to cut the risks of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland. After consultations with their members, some volunteered to get behind the sewing machines and so far they have produced over 500 face coverings. They have shared out for free these new face coverings of long- lasting, well-designed material. Many local charities and frontline workers are using the washable masks. The founder of Bomoko is Mimi Unamoyo.
Currently, the two main face covering tailors are Baseke who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Maya, a Syrian woman.
They come from two countries that have been devastated by conflict. DRC Congo has had multiple ceasefires to try and end the war, but 23 years on the country remains in conflict. What started as a civil war that toppled former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko turned into a major resource-based conflict. Congo is the wealthiest country in the world in rare minerals. Rebel groups have controlled the buying and selling of the technology mineral coltan and this has encouraged Western companies and nations to “suffer” coltan fever, the irrational madness to get it cheaper whether Africans will end up dying or not.
The price of coltan started to rise dramatically in the Western world when it was discovered in the 1990s and 2000s as the best material for mobile phone technology. But when you pass a woman like Baseke in your Belfast streets, you will not understand the true nature of why she walked away from the conflict, you will be busy texting on your mobile, which is quite understandable.
Maya’s story is the same, the cruelty of man in wars of Syria and the rest of that region. No matter who you are in Syria, that conflict has touched you but when you are a woman, it has brought untold suffering to your ability to raise your family peacefully.
What the women of Bomoko have seen is what the women of Northern Ireland have experienced during the long period of the Troubles.
Elly Omondi Odhiambo is a Kenyan writer based in Belfast, he can be reached at by email.