Pádraig Hoare: Three community groups determined to make Ireland more inclusive

Pádraig Hoare: Three community groups determined to make Ireland more inclusive

KASI (Killarney Immigrant Support Services), which works to support integration in Killarney, said its Going Green initiative was the culmination of a huge community effort. The community-based non-governmental organisation was set up to provide support to asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants in Killarney and greater Killarney area.

The women share a common goal — doing extraordinary things for their communities, empowering others when it comes to education, the environment, and sustainability.

Ashley Chadamoyo Makombe and Aisha Bolaji are students. The Dublin friends are passionate about elevating and amplifying others, especially those whose voices are not heard, through their publishing platform, the GalPal Collective.

Marilyn Counihan helps to elevate others through KASI, a community-based, non-governmental organisation set up to provide support to asylum seekers, refugees, and other migrants in Killarney and greater Killarney area.

In Cork, Nasc, which is the Irish word for link, empowers migrants to realise and fulfil their rights. Its Gateway to Inclusion project has just been chosen as one of Sustainable Cork’s funding recipients for providing support to female migrants and refugees to pursue education and employment opportunities.

Pádraig Hoare finds out more.

GalPal: Students challenge lack of diversity in the arts 

 Ashley Makombe Chadamayo, right, and Aisha Bolaji founders of The GALPAL Collective. The organisation is dedicated to the celebration, creation and support of art by young queer folk, women, and people of colour. Picture: Moya Nolan
Ashley Makombe Chadamayo, right, and Aisha Bolaji founders of The GALPAL Collective. The organisation is dedicated to the celebration, creation and support of art by young queer folk, women, and people of colour. Picture: Moya Nolan

Ashley Chadamoyo Makombe is a 19-year-old from Firhouse, studying journalism as a second-year student in Technological University Dublin (TUD).

Aisha Bolaji is a 20-year-old from Jobstown who is currently a second-year student of film and television production at the National Film School at IADT.

The two Dublin natives founded the GalPal Collective earlier this year, an arts and media collective dedicated to the celebration, creation, curation, and support of works by "young queer folk, women, and people of colour".

The GalPal Collective message is clear. “In Ireland, there is a lack of diverse representation in the arts as well as in the media," says its mission statement. "Our founders are of the firm belief that we should be able to occupy these spaces as queer people, as women, as people of colour. Yet a culture of nepotism and elitism is holding many young people back from following their creative passions. The GalPal Collective is focused on creating our own opportunities as well as finding opportunities within established institutions.” Ashley is the head of the writers’ department in the GalPal Collective and an occasional producer, while Aisha is head of the visual arts team.

Ashley writes while Aisha’s current focus is on directing and producing.

“I had always wanted to have an arts collective/start my own production company in the future and Aisha and I had spoken about this in length while we were still in secondary school," said Ashley of GalPal’s origins. "One day during lockdown this summer we were texting and the thought came up again. All of a sudden, we realised it was completely possible now that we’re both adults and we had the connections to make it possible so we just kind of did it. We had a meeting a few days later and that was it, we just went from there.” Aisha said: “I think for me I’ve always wanted a space to freely create and hone in my craft. Me and Ashley have been friends for years now and our goals kind of always aligned. So over lockdown, it really dawned on us that we could start this arts and media collective that we had been talking about since we were 16 and that we didn’t have to ask for permission, we could just do it.” The goal is clear — elevating voices of black writers, people of colour, and minorities so that this significant cohort of the Irish population may be represented accordingly.

Ashley said: “I didn’t know of any black women journalists and writers in Ireland while I was growing up, and when I got to secondary school I was very much discouraged from pursuing writing and journalism as a career by a lot of my teachers.

"Because of this, I hope to create a space for young creatives who didn’t see themselves in the media and have been told that a job in media and the arts wasn’t a possibility for them."

 Ashley Makombe Chadamayo, seated, and Aisha Bolaji founders of The GALPAL Collective. The organisation is dedicated to the celebration, creation and support of art by young queer folk, women, and people of colour. Photograph Moya Nolan
Ashley Makombe Chadamayo, seated, and Aisha Bolaji founders of The GALPAL Collective. The organisation is dedicated to the celebration, creation and support of art by young queer folk, women, and people of colour. Photograph Moya Nolan

For Aisha, it's about building a professional space for young women, young people of colour, and young queer folk in Ireland to freely create, build portfolios, and build connections so they can enter their respective industries with that.

“Coming from a working-class background, film never felt accessible to me. I didn’t even realise it was an option until I was 16. I didn’t go to a school that had the luxury of providing portfolio classes and it was uncharted territory for my teachers helping a student get into a film school with a portfolio.

"So a major long-term goal of mine with GalPal is to open up the possibility of the arts to people who don’t have easy access to it and give them the tools to pursue it for third-level education.

“As well as that, representation is so important. I think the first time I realised there was a space for me in the Irish film industry was when I watched Sing Street, I saw it like six times in cinema and never got sick of it. There was one black Irish kid, that was actually played by Jafaris and he didn’t even have that many lines.

“But I saw that acknowledgement of black Irish existence and that was enough for me to want to pursue film. With GalPal, I want young people to see themselves represented in these creative industries in Ireland and for them to know there’s a space for them here,” said Aisha.

If the response so far to the fledgling concept is any indication, the two young women may have begun a movement that empowers and emboldens others to dare to dream and be heard.

“The response so far has been way more than we expected it to be so soon. People have been nothing but positive about it and are super excited about what we’re doing and are excited to see what we do next. A lot of people are just so excited to see themselves represented in film and photography and articles and essays. I didn’t realise how much people wanted content for young people, by young people, until we started.

“I released an article about dating as a black woman back in September and so many people reached out to me thanking me for talking about it. Dating, in general, is hard but for young black women there are the added difficulties that people don't know about, and seeing it written down let them know that they weren't alone.

"The fact that the people we are making and creating for are enjoying the content we’re producing has been super validating," said Ashley.

Nasc provides Gateway to better future for migrants in Cork 

The community organisation in Cork that bears its name has wowed the Sustainable Cork programme for its Gateway To Inclusion project.
The community organisation in Cork that bears its name has wowed the Sustainable Cork programme for its Gateway To Inclusion project.

Nasc is the Irish word for link.

The community organisation in Cork that bears its name has wowed the Sustainable Cork programme for its Gateway To Inclusion project.

So much so that the Sustainable Cork funds will allow Gateway to be funded for another three years.

Initiated by Cork Chamber in May at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sustainable Cork is a partnership between Cork Chamber, Rethink Ireland, and the Department of Rural and Community Development.

Nasc’s Gateway was one of the three beneficiaries of €200,000 worth of funding.

Among 66 organisations that applied for the Sustainable Cork Fund, Nasc’s Gateway provides supports for female migrants and refugees to pursue education and employment opportunities.

The project has been in place since 2018, and with the Sustainable Cork funding to keep it going over the next three years, Gateway aims to work with 75 more women.

In 2019, it supported 36 women from 14 countries.

“The majority of the Gateway participants enrol in Gateway initially to learn English," said Nasc policy manager Fiona Hurley. 

"We provide comprehensive English classes from very beginner to more advanced levels in both class and one-to-one environments, conversation cafes, plus modules on stress management, personal effectiveness, online cookery, and yoga classes.

“When we begin working with women, our project co-ordinator Claire, who is a social worker, will sit with the women to identify their ambitions and their learning goals.

"In that process, we find that many participants have experienced financial or practical barriers to attending a class, including being the primary carer for children or for elderly family members.

“We try to ensure that the women get the additional supports they need, from finding supports for personal issues to providing a safe space where women can express personal difficulties and receive the help they require. This can involve helping with issues such as mental health, homelessness, social welfare, domestic abuse, and social welfare entitlements.”

The project has been in place since 2018, and with the Sustainable Cork funding to keep it going over the next three years, Gateway aims to work with 75 more women.
The project has been in place since 2018, and with the Sustainable Cork funding to keep it going over the next three years, Gateway aims to work with 75 more women.

Nasc is keenly aware that there is much skill and ambition in the migrant community and the Gateway programme tries to help women to tap into that, said Fiona.

“Isolation is a real issue for many of the women on our programme and Gateway has helped create a wonderful sense of community. We’ve managed to sustain that sense of community despite the social distancing requirements and the transition to online learning.

“The women report that having the classes continue throughout the pandemic has given them something to focus on and helped them to feel connected and less isolated. During the initial lockdown, we created an outreach service to make sure that any women who needed food or other supplies got them.” The project is run by a co-ordinator who is assisted by English language teachers and tutors.

“We’re delighted to have women who are migrants and refugees as part of the team delivering this project. Together with the social work background of our co-ordinator, it brings a huge depth of experience and understanding to the project.

“We’ve also been working on developing our mentoring programme. Several of the women in our project are very ambitious and want to have careers in IT or set up their own businesses so it’s been wonderful to be able to link them in with women of all backgrounds in Ireland who have been successful in those career fields.”

Going Green gets easier in Killarney as café satisfies environmentally conscious 

In 2009, KASI had the opportunity to develop a community garden with the site provided by Killarney Parish.
In 2009, KASI had the opportunity to develop a community garden with the site provided by Killarney Parish.

It's a café which is all about sustainable, environmentally friendly, community-centred food.

As well as serving locally sourced organic produce, with all meals home-cooked and home-baked, the Going Green café allows environmentally conscious consumers to stock up on items such as olive oil and dried food without the need for packaging.

Everyday grocery items can be dispensed into consumers’ own jars and containers, taking only what they need, and reducing waste and packaging, said KASI chair Bernie Osterloh.

KASI, or Killarney Immigrant Support Services, is the organisation behind the environmental and sustainable concept.

The community-based, non-governmental organisation was set up to provide support to asylum seekers, refugees, and other migrants in the Killarney and greater Killarney area.

KASI co-ordinator Marilyn Capat Counihan said the new Going Green venture is “a form of social enterprise with social, economic, and environmental impacts” and builds on its school canteen projects.

The community garden in Ballycasheen and its school lunch programme have been developed over the past number of years and Going Green is the next step.

Food has been a wonderful way to connect people in Killarney and its regions in the past decade, according to Ms Counihan.

“I guess because we are supporting and working with and working for people from various ethnic backgrounds, we used food as a mechanism to connect with people," she said. "We find that when people are sitting or sharing their food everyone seems to relax and conversation starts.

"Food, and sharing of food, has become part of the culture of KASI, where we celebrate almost everything — any excuse to cook and taste food from various parts of the world. As it happened, I, as the co-ordinator of KASI, love cooking and also gardening,” she said.

In 2009, KASI had the opportunity to develop a community garden with the site provided by Killarney Parish.

The site was grassland and, at the time, asylum seekers were not allowed to work; developing the garden provided an occupation for asylum seekers in the form of volunteerism, said Marilyn.

Everyday grocery items can be dispensed into consumers’ own jars and containers, taking only what they need, and reducing waste and packaging, said KASI chair Bernie Osterloh.
Everyday grocery items can be dispensed into consumers’ own jars and containers, taking only what they need, and reducing waste and packaging, said KASI chair Bernie Osterloh.

Another opportunity arose in 2015, she said, when KASI set up a social enterprise providing hot, affordable, and healthy lunches, with most of the vegetable ingredients sourced from their own community garden, to pupils in St Oliver’s National School, which is located next to the community garden.

“Two years later, we extended the service to three more primary schools in Killarney town. Our main aim in setting up this social enterprise is to create employment through training, placements, and possible employment in the project/social enterprise itself. It is a great success, and we were employing 14 staff while also, once again, integration happening in an organic manner through informal interaction of school staff, pupils, and parents with our own migrant volunteers and staff.

“Unfortunately, we have to stop the operation due to Covid-19 and lockdown in March this year. We have to temporarily lay off some of our staff in this particular programme. We will continue the operation once everything goes back to normal,” she said.

In the interim during lockdown, another opportunity arose where a café premises right in the middle of the town closed down.

With good footfall in the area, KASI saw the opportunity and went for it, according to Marilyn.

“We had ideas in mind, not just for a café but also for a zero waste and refill store, where it was lacking in Killarney town. Our aim, aside from reemploying our staff who were laid off in March, is to also raise awareness — indirectly, through the refill store’s presence — of the environmental impact each of us could have if we could just change some of our shopping habits.

“In our café, we endeavour to use organic ingredients where possible. If we can’t get organic, we try to source them locally to support other local producers. And if we can’t source them locally, we try to support Irish producers from other counties, therefore supporting Irish while also reducing our food mile and carbon footprints.

"Like most of our projects, we aim to raise awareness in a very subtle, organic manner. In these very unprecedented times, we feel that, perhaps, it’s also time for some positive packchange to happen.”

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