It will be a different holiday in direct provision centres around the country. Brian Moore talks to those supporting and living at Clonakilty Lodge to see how this year’s plans are going
FOR the residents at the Clonakilty Lodge direct provision centre, Christmas is always a time of joy and hope for their future in the community they now call home.
This year, however, as is the case across the country, the occasion will be somewhat subdued.
There are 32 families, representing 14 countries of origin with nearly 100 residents currently living in the lodge. Just under half of these are children and all families are allocated a single room.
‘Celebrating Christmas with our friends living in the Clonakilty Lodge has always been a joyful and uplifting time for everyone involved,’ said Olive Walsh of Clonakilty Friends of Asylum Seekers.
‘Our community here in Clon always pull out all the stops and make sure families seeking international protection are included in the festivities. In past years, the residents of Clonakilty Lodge have put on multicultural feasts or hosted their many friends and supporters from Clonakilty and beyond at their annual Christmas parties.’
And while lots of things have changed this past year what hasn’t changed, Olive said, is the kindness and generosity of the local community.
‘Every year, until the Covid-19 pandemic, the residents with the generous support of our community, organised a joyous celebration of cultural diversity, through sharing of food, music and dancing. It goes on well into the evening, with everyone letting their hair down after all the hard work and preparation for the event. Of course, Santa always calls in at least once during the Christmas season and is always very generous.’
However, this year’s celebrations are going to look a bit different for everyone.
‘With such support and generous sponsorship, we, The Friends, have the pleasure of co-ordinating a very special Santa visit for all the families and especially the 45 or so children living at Clonakilty Lodge. Unfortunately it can’t be the inclusive celebration so generously hosted by our friends at the Lodge in previous years, and we will miss that, but we are planning something special for the children and their parents in a safe setting for everyone. It’s a surprise – so we can’t give too much away,’ Olive said.
Lodge residents Doira Sibanda and Amanda Moyo, both originally from Zimbabwe, are looking forward to celebrating Christmas with their family and friends within the centre and are both hoping that their Christmas wish, of a permanent home for themselves and their family in Clonakilty will come true in 2021.
‘My daughter, Anne (16), and I have lived here in Clonakilty Lodge for almost four years,’ Doria said.
‘Anne is a student at Scared Heart and we both love it in Clonakilty. The people are lovely and very welcoming and have made us feel very much part of the community.’
Doria, who is studying food science and technology at UCC, is hoping to start her own baking business next year. ‘While I miss my family at this time of the year, I will be cooking a Zimbabwean dish and an Irish dish on Christmas Day as part of our own celebrations here in at the Lodge. But for our Christmas wish this year, Anne and I hope that we can find a permanent home in Clonakilty next year. That’s all we want, to live here in Clonakilty.’
A permanent home in Clonakilty is also a Christmas dream for Amanda Moyo, with her two sons Wayne (9) and Shayne (9 months).
‘Christmas for us is all about family, and while we will not be with our family in Zimbabwe, we will be able to celebrate with our new family and friends here in Clonakilty,’ Amanda said.
Amanda is studying healthcare at Kinsale College and has a very special Christmas Day treat planned.
‘I am going to make cow leg stew, a Zimbabwean speciality. Of course, only the best West Cork beef will do!’
She says that in 2021, she would like to make Clonakilty her permanent home. ‘Wayne loves his school and we don’t want to live anywhere else, the people here are so nice and we feel that we are part of a very good community here in Clonakilty.’
Olive added: ‘2020 has been such a difficult year for everyone across our community, in particular for those living in direct provision. This year, contributions to our group and partnership initiatives with other community-based organisations have really developed. We gratefully acknowledge the support, encouragement and practical, as well as financial contributions, of all these groups and private individuals. Our well-established connections including with the HSE, West Cork Development Partnership and the local ETB have been supplemented with considerable input from Clonakilty Community College, and most recently from Clonakilty Rugby Club’s wonderful community engagement initiative.’
Finally, she said, the support and contributions made to all aspects of their work across education, family-based projects, inclusion and integration, as well as many other issues, by Clonakilty St Vincent de Paul, has been unfailing and generous for many years. ‘We would like to put on record our gratitude on behalf of the residents of Clonakilty Lodge and Clonakilty Friends of Asylum Seekers. We could not do what we do without you.’