Jackie Keogh hears about the initiatives at play at Clonakilty Lodge and what the residents are doing to help them to keep busy during the coronavirus crisis
LIVING in a direct provision centre can be difficult at the best of times, but living in a direct provision centre under lockdown presents its own set of challenges.
At Clonakilty Lodge, the 100 residents – a figure that includes approximately 35 families – are not only complying with the guidelines, they are working together to find new ways of improving their situation.
Kitty Sisson, the service coordinator with Clonakilty Friends of Asylum Seekers, said their organisation continues to maintain an outreach service by phone and WhatsApp, because, at present, only the seven members of staff and the residents are permitted on the premises.
She told The Southern Star: ‘Residents are doing remarkably well given the very challenging situation. They are understandably very apprehensive, but are “coping and hoping” as one lady said to me.’
Since the start of the lockdown, the Clonakilty ‘Friends’ has – with permission from management, as well as appropriate sanitisation – made three deliveries to the 40 children living at the Lodge, which included hula hoops, bubbles, paper and drawing sets, books, and a basket of Easter treats.
Kitty said: ‘We will continue to do this, if possible, for the remainder of the lockdown period.’
She also said that an outdoor obstacle course was set up in the garden opposite the centres for the children to use, provided it is used one family at a time. Residents can continue to use the outdoor space and garden too, but that also must be one family at a time.
Kitty said their organisation is ‘working with other support charities, such as the St Vincent de Paul, which is very proactive around Clonakilty, and the management at the direct provision centre.’
She said: ‘Our partners, West Cork Development Partnership (WCDP) and Clonakilty SVP continue to be supportive in all aspects of the group’s work, as are local businesses who have offered support and contributions if needed.
‘Many members of the community have also offered to help if needed, but while no one is allowed to visit, we would encourage anyone who has previously had contact with any of the families to continue to stay in touch,’ she added.
There is, however, one very obvious shortfall and that is the lack of good quality laptops, so anyone who might have upgraded theirs and is willing to donate it to Clonakilty Lodge is urged to contact the organisation.
Every effort is being made to ensure the highest standards of hygiene are kept throughout the centre and additional cleaning services – operated by two of the residents – have been brought in by the HSE.
Two women at Clonakilty Lodge, Doria Sibanda and Busi are also actively engaged in a project that has been organised by the Sanctuary Mask Initiative, which was established by the Cork Migrant Centre and Better Together.
The Clonakilty duo are part of a much larger group of 15 women in direct provision centres who are making protective facemasks – not just for the residents but for others too.
A total of 6,000 masks are to be made across direct provisions centres in Cork and the first batch of 300 washable masks for use in preventing the spread of Covid-19 were handed over by Doria and Busi on Monday, April 20th last.
Although they are living and working in confined spaces, Doria said the residents are keeping to their own quarters and are exercising extreme care about social distancing, especially when preparing meals.
Clonakilty Lodge is a self-catering facility so the residents do their own cooking in two large communal kitchens and buy their ingredients at the Lodge shop, using a points system.
Normally there would be five recreational spaces at Clonakilty Lodge but three of them are now closed for general use, while the remaining two have been given over to Doria and Busi to work in isolation.
A further two rooms at Clonakilty Lodge have been allocated for self-isolation purposes, should the need arise, but that currently is not necessary.
Making masks is just one of the daily chores completed by Doria. Five mornings a week, the 40-year-old asylum seeker works as a baker at Londis in Clonakilty, making bread and scones.
From 12 until 6pm she works on making the masks and after dinner with her daughter Anne (15) she hits the books.
She told The Southern Star: ‘I am getting ready for my exams in food science and technology at UCC.’ Her first year exams will, of course, be online.
Adults who have been attending college, or taking part in supported online learning, continue to do so remotely with the support of West Cork Development Partnership.
Doria, who has lived at the direct provision centre since March 26th 2018, admitted: ‘Lockdown is not easy but everyone realises that the purpose of the lockdown is important. It is the best way to try and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.’
• See also Life section, p17