As head of employment programmes for Royal Greenwich Council, Fiona Apio-Matanda CMgr FCMI leads a team of 60. They deliver initiatives that upskill and reskill members of the community, and support local businesses in finding talent. They help women who have escaped domestic violence, people with autism and learning difficulties and potential apprentices. The service is open to all residents of the borough, whether they’re working or not.
“People who come to us, in the main, are dependent on state benefits and government support,” says Fiona. “Our job is to support them into work that enables them to become financially independent, so they can manage their own lives and realise their aspirations.
“I'm enthusiastic about this, because getting a good job helped me to change my life and the lives of those around me.”
That’s no overstatement. When Fiona was ten, her family fled Uganda to start a new life in the UK. Her great-uncle was Apollo Milton Obote, the country’s first president after gaining independence, who was deposed in two coups during his time in politics.
Before the second coup, led by Bazillo and Tito Okello in 1985, life was very different for Fiona and her twin brother. They went to the most exclusive boarding schools in Uganda and never wanted for anything.
“When the government was overthrown, and my mum went into exile, we didn’t know what was happening, and it was really scary. One minute you have everything, the next minute you're sharing one room with another family. We came here as refugees with just the clothes on our backs. We had to literally escape to the airport, my brother travelling there one way and my mum and I using another route. We met at the airport, and came to the UK with just £30.”
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