A 'heart-warming and inspirational morning’ was what Andy Pollak experienced when he was welcomed through the doors of Creagh College in May.
The board member with Places of Sanctuary Ireland and former Irish Times journalist visited the school with a team to decide whether the school had done enough to be recognised as a School of Sanctuary.
“In its School of Sanctuary introductory portfolio, the school's Culture Club outlined the extraordinary range of events and activities the school has carried out in recent years, including Polish and Ukrainian days; international food festivals; an app on the school website to translate its contents into various languages; a flag display in the entrance hall to show the large number of nationalities in the school, Stand Up week for LGBTI+ students; a Sanctuary Space for students to have a 'quiet time'; and music, dance and art displays.”
Andy and the team were welcomed to the school by principal Paul Glynn, who expressed his pride in the achievements of his students and his humility at watching some of his immigrant students overcome major obstacles to further their education.
“I can't imagine how I would cope arriving in a school in one of your countries without a word of your language. I am only glad that we were able to help you meet those challenges,” he said. “This school is a wonderful place and we are on a journey to making it a better place. I like to think we can be a refuge and a sanctuary to the many young people in difficult circumstances both in Ireland and from abroad.”
There are now students from 49 nationalities who have attended Creagh College, with at least 23 different languages – apart from English and Irish - spoken in the students' homes. Many of the students showcased their country's culture for the visitors, with Lithuanian dancing, Croatian poetry and Irish and international songs just some of the performances made on the day. Lunchtime was a feast for the senses as traditional food from 20 different countries was prepared for the visitors.
The journey continued as Andy and the team were shown some symbolic artwork created by the students.
“We were shown the 'Welcome Tree' artwork put together by students with its title 'Strength in Diversity'; its roots springing from the ETB values of excellence in education, care, community, equality and respect; its leaves representing all the schools' nationalities and cultures; its butterfly to symbolise the migration of refugees and asylum-seekers; and its sunflowers to represent Ukrainian refugees. An LBGTI+ student proudly showed us the Culture Club notice board with its combination of multicultural and LBGT activities,” explained Andy.
Two recent students from Sudan and Georgia and two current students from Pakistan were awarded individual 'Sanctuary Champion' trophies for their academic excellence and courage in overcoming social and cultural barriers. Reem Abubaker is now studying French and linguistics at UCD, while Lizi Gelenidze is at Trinity College Dublin doing a foundation course in science and hoping to go on to do medicine next year. They are both on Sanctuary Scholarships. Meanwhile, Sheharyar is studying cyber-security in college and Zain Malik is a sixth year student and guitar player at Creagh College. Three other recipients to receive Sanctuary Champion Awards who were unable to make it on the day are Raneem Abubaker, Razwan Ahmed and Maureen Wanjigo.
“Anybody who doubts the sheer richness of what a multicultural, multi-racial student body can bring to an Irish school, and their families can bring to an Irish community, should visit this wonderful second level school, organised under the auspices of the Waterford and Wexford and Education and Training Board,” said Andy. “It was a real privilege to be part of the monitoring visit that led to this school being declared a School of Sanctuary (the seventh to be so designated in the Republic of Ireland), and thus a model for the 300 schools Schools of Sanctuary Ireland plans to designate in this way over the next three years.”
Andy thanked Principal Paul Glynn, deputy principal Janet Wallace (one of the main movers behind Creagh College becoming a School of Sanctuary) and teachers Joan Christie, Ruairi O Broin, Stephen O Keeffe, Fidelma Rossiter, Beicy Wang, Cliona Cunnane, Lisa Nolan, Tom Lawless, Eilish Sheridan and Jude D’Arcy for making the day such a memorable occasion.