From Co Meath to the Mother City – Victoria Tully first stumbled upon Cape Town on a family holiday in 1998.
“We had been visiting Florida at Christmas time as a bit of a tradition. We had relations over there and wanted to escape the cold. But then, on recommendation from a friend, we decided to go to Camps Bay outside Cape Town for a change and it changed everything, “ she says.
"We loved it so much, my parents bought an apartment in Cape Town. I was doing a masters in English and sociology in Maynooth at the time, and working in research at the university, but once I finished, I decided to move over to South Africa myself."
Tully signed up to the University of Cape Town to do a degree in psychology. “It was a great way to accrue a study visa, plus I had the added bonus of having my parents’ apartment to stay in. They were almost retired at that point, so they were coming out a lot.”
Seeing children living in abusive conditions was heartbreaking and certainly you would bring your 'job' home with you at night
Tully says college life in South Africa revolved less around socialising than at home, so it took longer to make friends, but the weather made up for it. “I just got really healthy. I had chest issues at home and the fresh wind and warmth was great. Plus I had friends come over and visit.”
After getting life’s milestones out of the way like finishing college, getting married, having a child and opening a restaurant with her chef husband called Carghills in Cape Town, Tully decided to go job hunting in the area of development research.
When she started to look at the market, she realised that she needed to get work experience in her field in South Africa. “I realised that the only way to get it, was by doing an internship,” she says.
“So I got a research position at the department of social development. It was tough as it was full time, and I had a brand new baby, but it gave me an incredible insight and knowledge.”
When her work experience was up, she got a job at the Western Cape department of social development. It provides funding to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for the provision of childcare and protection services to children and their families/caregivers.
In 2016 she authored an 84-page report entitled “An Evaluation of the Safety Parent Programme in the Western Cape”. It focused on child abuse in communities in the area. “Unfortunately, the scale of child maltreatment due to many problems within families and communities is huge.”
The report highlighted areas including safe care for children within the family and community setting, safeguarding information and it highlighted the importance of preventative and early intervention services.
“It was difficult. Seeing children living in abusive conditions was heartbreaking and certainly you would bring your ‘job’ home with you at night. Many communities that are ravaged with child abuse and deliberate child neglect. The high rate of child maltreatment and neglect gave rise to the need for the emergency removal of children and subsequent placement with safety parents. Many children are not being cared for properly and not going to school or dropping out of school early.”
After 2½ years, Tully went to work for the department of the premier in Cape Town. It provides legal and corporate services to – and co-ordinates specific provincial affairs for – the premier, director-general and other departments of the Western Cape government.
“I work in downtown Cape Town. I work as a deputy director in evaluation and research for the national government.
"The recent South African elections were a particularly busy time. There are a lot of social changes afoot and it is an interesting time to be here. She was sent to Abidjan, Ivory Coast in May 2019 to give a speech at the African Evaluation International Conference.
"It's great. I am firmly entrenched here. As I am married to a South African, it was easier to get permanent residency, but it still took around five years between applying and finally getting it." Her now 12-year-old son has dual citizenship, which she says is handy, should he want to come and study in Ireland.
“We have a great family life. My husband gave up the restaurant and is now working as a private chef, so we have more time to do things at the weekends. My son loves the water and goes to a great school here, the equivalent of which would be unaffordable at home,” she says.
"We're always outside and I recently climbed The Lions Head, which is beside Table Mountain with my son. It's pretty scary, but incredible. Obviously you do miss Irish culture, but you get sunshine and the incredibly spectacular scenery."
For anyone thinking of coming here, Tully says it is a great place but be prepared. “You can’t solve all of the problems, and there are many socio-economic issues and a readiness for violence. You have to be careful here, but once you have some friends and have created a life here, it is wonderful.”