Anh Quoc Do, Vietnam, Umair Sheikh, Pakistan, Boully Barry, Guinea, Paul Moriarty of Limerick Volunteer Centre, Abderrahim Elattar, Morocco and Dumisani Banda, Zimbabwe - Picture: Micheal Cowhey
Agroup of asylum seekers in west Limerick have been painting their way towards integration as they take on voluntary community projects.
The young men, all based in Mount Trenchard, Foynes, are unable to work in Ireland until their applications to remain have been processed – an oft-lengthy ordeal.
In the meantime, they have been working in conjunction with Limerick Volunteer Centre on a number of makeovers on rural community centres.
“It is so refreshing!” exclaims Boully Barry, a native of Guinea who has been in Mount Trenchard for seven months.
“We have skills, but we cannot work. It was so nice to go out and do something. It took a lot of stress out of us,” he added.
Kilfinny community centre has already been painted inside and out, and the crew has moved on to Castlemahon.
Banded together by the volunteer centre’s Paul Moriarty, the work itself was just one element of an important exercise in bonding with the community.
“It was so good to get out to the community. We got to meet new people, speak to people in Kilfinny, and it was so good to integrate with different people. This is exactly what we need, to integrate with people,” said Umair Sheikh, a Pakistan native who has been in Mount Trenchard awaiting asylum for two years.
“We are isolated here. We are not bad people. We can’t work, and it is not easy for us to mix with the community,” added Umair, passionately.
“Volunteering made us feel like we are doing something productive, and we got to spend the day with nice people.”
Each adult in direct provision receives a weekly personal allowance of €19.10. A bus to Limerick city and back costs just about that amount, so most of those in Mount Trenchard stay put more often than not.
“As a volunteer centre, we could have gotten a crew together when the job came in. I decided to come here (to Mount Trenchard) because we did Kilfinny in 2009. When Kilfinny needed to be done again, it reminded me to come out here, especially because the lads are already based here in west Limerick,” continued Paul.
Boully explains that the group has done about four days of work altogether so far, but “we have asked Paul for more work”.
Paul added: “We wouldn’t mind doing another one. We have moved onto Castlemahon Community centre now, there is still another day’s work in it. I’ve noticed a change in them since we started.”
As well as meeting the other community helpers in Kilfinny, the experience was a way for the six to get to know each other.
Dumisani Banda just arrived in Mount Trenchard a month ago, and in Ireland three months ago. Upon arriving in Dublin, the Zimbabwe native reached out to the Dublin Volunteer Centre himself, completing a number of jobs within his first couple of weeks.
He sought out the same when he got to Limerick, and crossed paths with Paul and the group – a group which is also made up of Morocco man Abderrahim Elattar, Anh Quoc Do, from Vietnam, and Shakeel Ahmed, Pakistan.
Volunteering with fellow men from Mount Trenchard has been a successful ice-breaker for him, and the six have built a friendship since working together. Dumisani is a “particularly good painter” with an eye for detail, according to the others.
After a raid by gardai on Mount Trenchard in July, one of the men said that he has had to start counselling.
They are all disappointed that the direct provision centre gets negative press, and by extension, that the people living there get a bad reputation.
“People seem to think that asylum seekers are evil. We are not bad,” said Boully.
Umair and Shakeel both express that they are “humiliated”.
“We are already living in stressed conditions. Many of us are depressed, and we are just waiting for our cases to be completed, it’s a long process,” said Shakeel, who has been in Mount Trenchard for two years and eight months.
Amid all the adversity they have to face, a day of volunteering is relief for the six, who are pleased to be able to do something positive with their time.
Kathleen O’Shea, of Kilfinny Community Council, was delighted about a job well done.
“They were lovely, and they were delighted with Kilfinny. One of them was very interested in when the school was built, and how many kids were going to school there. They were really interested in the little village,” she said.
“They did a brilliant day’s work on both days, they were very tidy and very exact. We have a complete paint job courtesy of the volunteers from Foynes, and it means so much to the whole community here.”