Vernesta Cyril has been nominated for our Wonderful Welsh Women campaign by the Race Council Cymru (RCC). In this interview, Vernesta talks about her passion to be a nurse and empowering women, her role models and advice she would give young women today.
Please tell us about your career? Did you always know what you wanted to do?
I wanted to be a nurse or a teacher. My cousin died in childbirth and it affected me, so I knew I wanted to work with women and help them. I studied a pre-nursing qualification in St Lucia before I came to the UK. I was then told I would be better off studying to be a nurse in the UK with the NHS.
I’m passionate about working with women and empowering them.
You are the Founder of South East Wales Racial Equality Council. Can you tell us about that? And your involvement with Black History Month.
At the time racism and inequality in the UK was rife. I wanted to devote my time and be active in helping the people in the region to recognise the inequalities we faced, and to educate others. I wanted to try and make a difference, as supporting people is a big passion of mine.
I am a patron of Black History Wales. As a black person, nobody knows our history, it’s not taught in schools. People only know the negative history. We need to make it accessible to all, starting in schools.
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
My greatest achievement for me, is being voted Midwife of the Year in 2006. I gave my midwifery career my all, and to be recognised and voted for by my colleagues and peers is definitely my greatest achievement.
Were there any women that inspired you as a girl or young woman?
The women in my family. They were all very strong and very encouraging throughout my life. Also, one teacher, Ms Pattison, who was a secondary school teacher of mine in St Lucia. She was always so encouraging and pushed me, in a positive way to get good marks.
My family and my teacher Ms Pattison empowered me and helped me to believe in myself.
Which female role models inspire you today?
One women that stands out in Wales for me is, Uzo Iwobi OBE, she has fought so hard for racial equality and still does tirelessly
Do you think that women role models are visible enough?
They are visible, but if you know where to look. There certainly isn’t enough in prime time TV about black women’s achievements.
What more do you think should be done to promote the achievements of women?
It lies with the media, prime slots on TV and programmes dedicated in their achievements.
What do you think are the barriers facing women?
Inequality and discrimination is still present. Black women need strong black women to follow. There needs to be more BAME representation on boards and at education establishments.
Are there any barriers specific to your field of work facing women?
There is still unconscious bias facing black women in women orientated roles. The people at the top have to be committed to change.
What advice would you give your ten year old self?
Continue and concentrate on your education. Read and be well read
What advice would you give to young women today?
Don’t sit around and moan. Stay strong and be educated. Keep fighting those barriers, you have a lot to give. There will be knockdowns but you have to get back up and push those doors open yourself. Be humble and always take the opportunity to learn.