Friday 19 January 2018

'It's amazing that kids here in Rwanda ask me about Mary Robinson'

Further into the heartland of Africa, Pauline Quinn will be celebrating in Rwanda where there seems to be a little more awareness of Ireland.

"There's a lot of Westlife played!" she laughs. "They are very, very popular."

Pauline, a 26-year-old primary school teacher from Westport in Co Mayo, is currently volunteering with VSO as an education management advisor.

"It was funny when I was in a class with 12-year-olds," she says, "and when one of the pupils found out I was Irish he said to the local teacher, 'I think Ireland was one of the first countries to have a female president'. I looked in amazement and said, 'Yeah, we were!'

"Then the teacher told me that Mary Robinson was one of the first heads of state to come here in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.

"It was amazing that 17 years later the child remembered Mary Robinson coming and it made me very proud to be Irish."

Pauline lives in quite a rural area so will be heading to the next biggest town, Gitarama, to join other volunteers for a party to celebrate.

"I was really pleased with myself, I found material with shamrocks on it," she says.

"I tried to explain to people that it was our national symbol and how our patron saint day is coming, but there's no real awareness of that. But luckily I arrived here with two other volunteers from Ireland, so St Patrick's Day is really a big deal.

"I was at a cafe last week and I heard a few Irish accents so I was straight over inviting them to our party. But now you find that everybody is Irish.

"Everybody has a cousin or a grandmother or some connection among the volunteers."

So the handful of native Irish at the party will be gearing up right about now to spread some festive Irish cheer and culture.

"One of the girls is an Irish dancer and a few play the tin whistle, so we will be teaching people some Irish dancing and Irish songs," says Pauline. "And everybody has been told to wear green. Some of the girls have had green dresses made locally by the tailors here so we are expecting everyone to be in green.

"It is always a nice time for Irish people and to celebrate their Irishness with people from all over the world. I would always try to send letters to people I know living outside of Ireland because it will always be a day Irish people will miss home.

"So I'd like to wish everyone a Happy St Patrick's Day, no matter where they are."

Irish Independent

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