Tuesday 15 October 2019

Nicola Anderson : 'One community proves all it takes is a 'cupán tae' and good chat to break down the barriers'

  

Logging on: Direct Provision volunteers in Kenmare, Co Kerry, help to recreate an ancient Irish dugout boat
Logging on: Direct Provision volunteers in Kenmare, Co Kerry, help to recreate an ancient Irish dugout boat
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

It was cold and dark when a coach-load of people with no idea of where they were going landed in the town that was to become their home.

Amongst them was a carpenter, a professional cook and a number of web designers.

They were frightened and apprehensive, not knowing what to expect - or whether there would even be a welcome for them when they arrived.

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Some were dressed flimsily in flip-flops and shorts, despite the unaccustomed bitter weather. It had only been at noon the previous day that the people of Kenmare, Co Kerry, were told to expect 96 residents of Direct Provision.

The local community immediately swung into action.

They arranged collections of clothes and toys for the children, putting in place plans for language classes and other facilities.

Almost a year on, locals and the Direct Provision residents are firm friends and enjoy getting together over a 'cupán tae' and a chat.

This week, they shared some avocado and banana bread they had baked at the Direct Provision centre. Last time, it was courgette brownies, using up the vegetables they had grown themselves.

Ongoing is a project to recreate a bronze-age style dugout boat with archaeologist Dr Niall Gregory, with many from Direct Provision volunteering for this task at Boane Heritage Park in Kenmare.

The question is, why Kenmare reacted in such a positive manner to their arrival in the first place? "Because they were here in 2001 and it didn't go so well," explains Máire Úi Léime, community development worker.

"This time, Kenmare knew what to expect - and we knew what to do to make it better," she says.

With the clamour and opposition surrounding the idea of Direct Provision in many communities, it is easy to forget that all around the country, people are quietly setting about breaking down barriers.

In February 2018, journalist Graham Clifford from Cork was in the middle of running a 10k race in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, "as part of a mid-life crisis sort of thing", he says - when he suddenly had a brainwave.

"My main frustration is that Irish people even if they wanted to meet someone in Direct Provision wouldn't have an iota how you do it - can you knock on the door, can you just ramble in?"

His idea was to get locals and people from Direct Provision running alongside each other with no motive other than the simple act of being together, while running. "Even sharing the 'huff' of our breath together and enjoying the silence is a powerful thing," he says.

Sanctuary Runners, a non-political, non-religious movement is now growing by the day - and has just been shortlisted for a #Beinclusive EU sports award.

Next year they will run in Tokyo and Graham's idea is now being eagerly looked at by other countries, keen to replicate his success story.

"If you have a preconceived notion of people in Direct Provision, I'm not saying you're wrong," Graham says.

"I'm saying come on, test it out and you might find you're wrong. Invariably people come away saying, 'actually I feel a bit daft actually, your man is sound'."

Direct Provision is "clearly a very poor system," he believes.

But he thinks the real issue is us - and what kind of a society we want to be.

"Being a migrant is a temporary status," Graham points out.

"Today's asylum seeker arriving in Dublin Airport could be a doctor in the Mater Hospital in three years' time so what are we going to say then? We didn't like you when you came even though you saved my son?"

At a catering kitchen in Bray, Co Wicklow, Ellie Kisyombe is putting her special Malawi-recipe hot sauce into bottles.

Having been through the Direct Provision system and done a six-month training course in Ballymaloe, she is now a professional cook with a catering company, Our Table.

She now hopes to employ five to 10 people who have been also been through Direct Provision, in her upcoming restaurant in Dublin city centre.

"It's a difficult journey," she says of Direct Provision and getting her official status.

"But it gets interesting and smoother when people accept you.

"I'm lucky to be surrounded by welcoming people and Darina Allen gave me the training," she says.

"I couldn't have done anything without people supporting me."

Irish Independent

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