Jane Mitchell on exploring Direct Provision in new young adult novel Run For Your Life

WHAT IS THE BOOK ABOUT?

RUN for Your Life is about a 14-year-old Asian girl named Azari who arrives in Ireland with her mother, seeking safety and refuge from violence in her home country. Azari is athletic and energetic and full of fun, but the hardships in her life have caused her to lose much of her spirit. She feels lost and desperately sad, but she is also resilient and forward-looking.

After a rocky start, Azari moves forward with her new life in Ireland, despite the hardships she faces and her mother’s mental health issues. She makes friends both in the Direct Provision center where she has to live and in the local community. She seizes the new opportunities that come her way and finds a way to make her life brighter.

The brightest light that shines in Azari’s new life is the opportunity to resume her beloved race – something she was forced to give up at home.

WHY CHOOSE A TEENAGER AS A PROTAGONIST?

Because adolescence is so interesting. It’s a difficult time, full of changes and uncertainties: dealing with changing feelings and emotions, becoming more aware of yourself and others, getting used to changes in your body.

It’s a struggle for many of us, but it’s also a time of great anticipation and excitement. The world opens up to us as we reach the threshold of adulthood and lean towards independence and freedom.

In addition to the usual trials of adolescence, Azari must face the shock of arriving with her traumatized mother in a strange country where everything is different from her home: Azari is always cold. She can barely speak English. The food tastes bland and greasy compared to the spicy dishes it grew up with. But it also spreads its wings.

She soaks up everything around her. Discovers herself and her emotions. She explores the new world she finds herself in: a world of possibilities, new experiences and hope.

WHY WRITE ABOUT DIRECT PROCUREMENT?

Azari’s story is loosely based on the interrupted lives of thousands of people in Direct Provision Ireland, many of whom are traumatized by war, displacement and persecution.

When she arrives in Ireland, Azari is denied the freedom that most of us enjoy. She can’t participate in extracurricular activities, can’t cook her own food, can’t even choose when or what she wants to eat. She lives in poverty and faces intimidation and threats when speaking out.

While she is welcomed by many people, Azari and other asylum seekers are treated with savage hostility by a group of locals.

The direct delivery system is not a way for anyone to live, let alone for all refugees. As of 2021, over 7,000 people are living in direct provision centers across Ireland, of which over 2,000 are children.

I want to engage with young people from Direct Provision who are interested in reading and writing. To that end, I am volunteering with Fighting Words Charity to lead workshops for young asylum seekers in conjunction with the publication of the book.

WHY DOES THE STORY ALSO AFFECT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?

Perhaps because I have been a teacher and have worked with people with disabilities, I have always been interested in human rights, and in particular the rights of the child.

It is often tempting to protect children from the harsh realities of life, such as racism, domestic violence and unlawful killings. But young people have a remarkable capacity for empathy when something is presented to them in a way they can understand. Fiction can be a wonderful way to safely explore sensitive topics. An honest storyline that doesn’t shy away from the truth allows young readers to explore multiple perspectives and better understand complex issues.

Young readers need and have the right to understand the terrible situations that cause people to flee their home countries in fear for their lives, and to learn about the misery of the Direct Provision centers where the Irish government houses asylum seekers. asylum traumatized and in distress.

WHY CHOOSE RUNNING AS A TOPIC?

I have been a recreational runner for years, have run the Dublin City Marathon twice and competed in running events all over Ireland. Running is something that invigorates me. It clears my mind and I enjoy working my body and pushing it to its limits.

Running seemed to be an ideal passion for Azari: something that symbolizes his fight for freedom and equality. In so many parts of the world, the stigma surrounding women’s bodies and their freedom to be independent without the threat of violence or public shame has an extremely negative impact on their lives.

What is appropriate or inappropriate for a young woman – whether in sports, education, career choices, relationships or personal freedom – is determined by patriarchal customs, traditional beliefs and systemic disempowerment. women.

:: Run For Your Life is out now, published by Little Island Books.

Irene B. Bowles