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Sister Stan saved my life, says trafficked woman

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Sister Stan’s life and work is explored in a new RTE documentary

Sister Stan’s life and work is explored in a new RTE documentary

Sister Stan’s life and work is explored in a new RTE documentary

A woman trafficked into Ireland from Nigeria when she was 15 has revealed how homelessness campaigner Sister Stanislaus 'Stan' Kennedy saved her life.

Chino Okeke was forced into a job as an unpaid domestic worker and was regularly beaten and abused.

Rescued by social services, she ended up in a foster home but at 18 she was out on the street, undocumented and with nowhere to go.

She tried to kill herself, which is when she met Sister Stan. The nun found her a home and helped arrange a university education and Irish citizenship application.

"Sister Stan saved my life," said Ms Okeke.

"Today I am a career woman, smart, with a good job and happy, and that would not have been possible if I did not meet Sister Stan. She started that journey for me."

Exploitation

Speaking on a new RTE documentary on Sister Stan's life and work, Being Stan: A Life In Focus, Ms Okeke said: "I call her my grandma. I love her so much.

"She's the reason why I'm here today. She's my guardian angel. She was there for me when I literally had no one.

"She sees you. The way you are treated by society you feel you do not deserve love, you do not deserve anything. She was the first person that saw me.

"That hope she gave me made everything OK. She sees people and sees them as human. She is everything to me."

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The campaigning nun with Chino Okeke in the programme

The campaigning nun with Chino Okeke in the programme

Sister Stan, who is in remission from cancer, said she did a lot of work with girls and women trafficked for sexual exploitation, and she was behind a major 2008 study highlighting the problem in Ireland.

The 80-year-old, who set up Focus Ireland, the country's largest homelessness charity, said she was stepping back from her work while recovering from cancer. She also spoke of her horror at being tarnished by child abuse accusations made against her religious order.

The Co Kerry nun told the documentary she knew "absolutely nothing" about child abuse in St Joseph's residential home in Kilkenny, where she lived and worked in the 1970s.

The Ryan Report in 2009, which looked into the sexual abuse of children in care homes, revealed two lay workers at St Joseph's had sexually and physically abused children.

"The first time I heard about sexual abuse in St Joseph's in Kilkenny was in 1995 when there was a garda inquiry into it," said the nun.

"It was absolutely shocking to hear it. It was absolutely shocking it happened in a residential home run by our sisters.

"Then there was the States Of Fear programme which looked at institutional abuse and it included St Joseph's in Kilkenny. I was accused of being complicit with it in the sense it was alleged I knew about the abuse, when I knew nothing about it.

"Absolutely, I didn't know, but nevertheless the allegation really upset me.

"It questioned everything I was about, what I stood for, everything, because children who go into care would have been very much part of my work in the sense of promoting their rights and trying to get training for the people working with them.

"It did challenge me very deeply and everything I stood for.

"I really reflected on it and had to realise that what I was suffering was nothing compared to what the boys had suffered in the institution."

Frightened

The Ryan Commission criticised the owners of St Joseph's, the Sister of Charity, for failing to learn from a hushed-up case in 1954.

"I can understand why people find it hard to understand how we didn't know, how I didn't know," said Sister Stan.

"But I suppose now, the more we hear about it and the more we realise what an awful, dark hidden secret it is and how frightened the children are and the gap that is between the children and the people caring for them, there is much more awareness of that now.

"But it is still there with me. It's horrific what happened there and what happened elsewhere. Horrific."

The documentary, narrated by Oscar-winning actress Brenda Fricker, follows the career of Sister Stan from when she joined the Sisters of Charity as an 18-year-old novice.

Being Stan: A Life In Focus is on RTE One on Thursday at 10.15pm