Funmi Oke is a midwife and pediatric nurse who migrated to the UK from Nigeria in 1983. In her interview, she discusses migration, motherhood, her identity as an African woman, discrimination and the highlights of her career in the NHS.
[I migrated to the UK in] August, 1983. Uh, I was actually brought up in Nigeria. I got married then with my husband and my daughter, we moved back to UK in August, 1983. Yes, I was about 24, 25 when I came to UK.
When I came, I actually, and wanted to further my [education] because before I left Nigeria, I was qualified as a teacher. I was a teacher before I left Nigeria. But mind you, when I was little I really wanted to be a nurse. Coming to UK, I had to try to get more qualifications and to develop my knowledge, before anything else. And that was the reason why I went to college and from college, I went to university in Hull.
Experience with Racism in Everyday life
I finished work one day, I went to the shopping mall in Hull. I said I was coming back to going into my car. The lady said to me, you black, you know, F word, go back to your country. This was 97 or 1998. Go back to your country. We don't want you and I looked at her and said “Thank you. Do you know what? I pay tax in this country. I work for NHS in this country”. And I just walked away.
Why she became a midwife
My auntie is, she was, I mean, bless her. She died a year ago. She was actually a midwife. And um, because of that, you know, I have the you know, inspiration of becoming a midwife myself. So that was the reason why I thought this is an opportunity for me to pursue my career in nursing when I go to UK. And that was the reason why I went into nursing and then in January 1988.
Of course you need, you, you need to celebrate your identity. You come from a country and you need to let people know. Yeah, no matter why, you know what you live in UK, you are still in Nigerian as well as a British. So you do have the rights to celebrate and therefore people to know who your identity is, you know?
Discrimination & Racism in her career
During the training I had to deliver 50 babies. 50 babies and I could remember one of them refused. She did not want me to deliver her baby. She didn't give any reason but she refused. Deep down, you know, the reason why she doesn't want you to do it but. that's how life goes. And I know the experience I had after we qualified because it was about seven, 10, or falls in the training. After we qualified, it was only me that they didn't get a job as a midwife. I try, I did so many interviews, I participated, I did a lot of presentations and in the end, why? Because they have to question them, why does she not get this doc? And one of their reason was she's too experienced, she's too confident and I thought you want me to do, I have to be confident to do this job, given the skills.I mean, this case, I actually go to the court for discrimination. They actually got a lawyer for me to follow this case both in the end, there is no proof because in Hull, at that point the society, black society wasn't that much. So couldn’t, they cannot prove it. That that was a discrimination. Yeah. So unfortunately, I abandoned midwifery and I went straight back to general nursing and I started doing my nursing with pediatrics for so many years. But, this is really funny. What's happened to me during my general nursing training, people who are trying to discriminate against me, we actually meet again in midwifery and some of them actually work in the Pediatric ward. Working together in pediatric work. I try to build the relationship that we didn't have before. It build the bridge and one of them now is one of my best friends.
The highlight of my career is I’ve achieved a lot with what I’ve done with the NHS. Starting from being a registered nurse, going into be a midwife, and again to be a registered sick nurse [for] baby, which is paediatric, and to go and do NICU. Yeah. From being a registered nurse, midwifery and then the sick children, as well as premature babies. So I've achieved a lot. I’ve achieved a lot, which I'm really, I'm really happy about. And I'm proud of my career and I'm proud that I went into nursing. No matter what your challenges you've been through or what people throw at you, I'm happy that I achieved it and that's the best, you know, career. I can recommend to anybody.
Advice to young people
I mean, the only advice I would give to [the young generation of Africans of today] is say, keep your head down, do what you want to do, go for what your dream is all about. Go for it and achieve your dream. Don't let anybody discourage you from doing any what you want to do. I mean, the can say to you. Oh you’re not good enough. What you have to have in your mind is, I’m going to prove them wrong, no matter what colour I am. And stay away from crime. We need to prove to them we're not criminals, were well educated, and we can achieve what we want to achieve in life.