The World We Share: Meet Mercy

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nigerian woman living in the UK

Mercy is a firm believer in that where you were born does not determine where you will end up. Today, we bring you the story of how a young Nigerian woman went from cleaning floors to becoming an HR manager at the Ministry of Justice of the United Kingdom.

Mercy’s father passed away when she was 10, leaving behind a wife and six children. This experience shaped Mercy and her way of doing things. She understood from a very early age that education was the way to overcome poverty and that, for the sake of her family, it was something she would need to figure out and succeed at.

“As a young woman, I wanted to get married. Each time I got approached, I looked at my circumstances and I said, ‘Well, getting married increases the number of children for myself and for my mother. So, how are we going to come out of this situation?’ I considered that it wasn’t proper for me to marry at the time,” shared Mercy.

Although Mercy never married or had children of her own, she did become a parental figure for many people in need. But first, she had to find a job outside of Nigeria.

“I got a job at the bank, but on the day I was going to start, I was told that the job was no longer for me, that they had given it to another person from another state. That really humiliated me, so I decided to come over here,” said Mercy.

Armed with a business degree, Mercy migrated to the United Kingdom where she found that her degree didn’t translate as effectively into the system. This meant that Mercy only seemed to qualify for cleaning jobs at hospitals and universities.

While these jobs were not what she wanted to do, she saw them as a starting point. She would serve tea in hospital wards, take out trash bags, and clean toilets and floors at universities. She didn’t mind it, but some nurses and professors would look down on her.

One day, one of the professors saw her in the kitchen and asked her if she enjoyed her job. Mercy said she did, but that she believed she could do something better. When he didn’t seem to understand what she meant, Mercy added: “I could do the job you’re doing if I had your training. I can do better things. I just need the opportunity to do them.”

This was a defining moment in Mercy’s life and career. Soon after, while cleaning around the university, she found an ad for a job opening at the Civil Services – then called the Public Trust Office. She got a job as an administrative assistant, eventually moving on to become a case worker.

“After a while, I realized I didn’t feel challenged anymore, that I had learned everything I needed to learn. So, I decided to go back to studying and try to do something different.”

While looking for jobs to gain work experience, Mercy pursued a Human Resources Management degree at London Southbank University. By the time she completed it, she had found a temporary two-year job in another government department, a necessary step before landing a human resources management position within the government.

“Currently, I work in the Ministry of Justice’s headquarters working on projects called government schemes. These are initiated by the government to help marginalized individuals find employment in the civil services,” shared Mercy.

Mercy leads a summer diversity internship program focusing on black, Asian, or migrant minority groups from different educational backgrounds but who would consider a career in the civil services.The candidates are brought in for 12 weeks during their third year of university or first year of graduate school.

During that period, interns are exposed to the inner workings of the office so they can get a sense of what a career in civil services could look like. Sometimes, the internships even lead to jobs. At the end of the internship, they receive a performance evaluation, which is sent to the central government. Thanks to this evaluation, interns can apply for a “fast stream” program if they do choose to pursue a career in civil services.

“A lot of them are fantastic students who do very well, but because they are a minority, they don’t seem to get the same opportunities. I’ve been doing this for over three years now. In the Ministry of Justice, I increased the number of intakes from 6-7 people to over 45 spread across 27 participating government departments. I raised the profile of the scheme and encouraged business areas to start taking in these students who are wonderful, hardworking, and resilient,” said Mercy.

For Mercy, moving to the UK reeducating herself to match the employment requirements of a new society is an achievement.  

With her foreign experience, Mercy feels she can help many of her community members back home. By changing their mindsets from waiting for a job to looking for ways to employ themselves, Mercy believes she can help them find ways out of poverty. One of the things Mercy encourages them to focus on the skills they have rather than the ones they don’t.

“Look at your strengths, what you’re good at and have a passion for, and pursue that. Even if at the beginning that only lands you a small job, you can grow from there. Don’t limit yourself to your present situation, particularly when it’s not a pleasant one. Believe in yourself and take opportunities. You might fail in some areas, but if you keep going, one day it’ll click,” shared Mercy.

For Mercy, her biggest accomplishment is empowering less privileged people to start thinking independently. Back in Nigeria, she sponsors children by paying for their education fees. She’s involved with food banks, procuring food through her own means or by liaising with organizations. She visits prisons, brings in catering, and spends time with the inmates.

When it comes to her own family, Mercy has found employment for many of them and has put seven of her relatives through university.

“For me, that is the direction I’m going in. Hopefully to build a foundation and possible a school, to empower people, bringing people with knowledge to talk to the youth about how to succeed in life without having to wait for the government to do something for them,” said Mercy.

At Ria, we are proud to support migrants like Mercy who are committed to opening ways for a better everyday life. Mercy is not only a valuable member of the UK’s Ministry of Justice, but a superhero when it comes to her community back home. We hope that Mercy’s story inspires you to make the most out of your career, no matter how small you start.

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