Aruna, Guinea Bissau/Northern Ireland

Hello, my name is Aruna. I’m going to be 30 next Monday. I’m originally from a small country called Guinea Bissau, it’s in West Africa, beside Senegal. But I grew up in Portugal. However I’ve been living in Northern Ireland ten, almost eleven years now.  When I first moved to Portugal I was a student, until the time I came here. Basically, I remember before moving to Portugal, in West Africa, I was helping the family with agricultural work. In Portugal I started going to school and playing football, so it was the first time I actually got introduced to football. When I started playing football it was a good way for me to be part of the community and have something to do and make friends.

I would consider my home country Portugal more than in Africa where I was born. Obviously I grew up in Portugal, most of my friends live there and we maintain close contact whenever possible. I left Guinea Bissau when I was 8, my dad took me over to Portugal because I could have better opportunities to study and probably better opportunities in life, and then I left Portugal in 2003. I never actually thought of coming to Northern Ireland. I initially was playing football for a lot of years, and I wanted to be a footballer, it was my dream. But then I was going to school, and whenever I turned 19 it was my senior season and I basically didn’t get many chances to play. That kind of affected a lot my confidence. I lost motivation in school, I wasn’t going to some classes. So I decided to look for work. I never actually thought of coming here. In a period of a month I spoke to my cousin who was living in Dungannon working in a factory, and he told me he could get me a job.  The following month in February I ended up coming to Northern Ireland. I worked for a while in a factory there, but they didn’t like my work, so I got sacked, not even within a month. I spent some time looking for other jobs in the area, factory work, but there wasn’t much, and then I just decided to come to Belfast. I didn’t know anyone in Belfast.

I enjoy Belfast you know, obviously leaving Dungannon, for a while being in a small town with not much to do, and when you’re a bit young…I came from Lisbon, and it’s a big city so there’s always things to do. Then I came to Belfast and it’s not that big but there’s always a bit more to do.

I’ve been living in Belfast over ten years now. It’s like home to me now, I’ve got a family and stuff like that so, basically now the time goes very fast, I just kind of look back and say, things have moved on and you just don’t realize time.

I didn’t choose Belfast, I didn’t choose Northern Ireland; it just happened. It wasn’t planned. I was looking for work, I only knew about Belfast through the news, or in our English classes in Portugal that would cover the Troubles.

I’m a pretty friendly guy, and I’m not hard to get on with, and I like to be involved with the local community. What helped me a lot was football, it basically helped me integrate into the local community because I was playing for local teams and getting to meet people. There’s no language barrier in football, everyone turns up and runs behind the ball and kicks it. There’s no, “you have to speak English.” It's a great tool to break barriers and so on. I’ve been working for NICEM for ten years now so it’s kind of a family for me.

I have with me a top from a football team in Portugal, called União Atletico Povoense (U.A.P.), it’s a local team. I don’t have many objects back in the house that I could bring but this one means a lot to me, that’s why I’ve kept it. I was wearing this when I was fifteen years old, we kind of won the league and I kept the top. The top itself reminds me of that occasion but the emblem, the symbol of the team means far more than that. I spent ten years training and playing football and had a lot of dreams. Football really helped me, getting me off the street and giving me a bit of discipline – just keeping me in the right way. Football is definitely a saviour for me.