The Last Christmas Party (for 2018) with Galway’s Forgotten Heroes

Recently I was invited to attend the Christmas Party of the staff of the Eglinton Direct Provision Accommodation Centre.

What used to be referred too as Asylum Seekers’ Accommodation Centres have got a bad press for many years. This is perfectly understandable when one realises that family members of all ages can live in a single room in an old hotel/hostel building, often occupied by one hundred to two hundred people from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, over a long period of time. There can be a loss of personal dignity and a feeling of being downgraded as a human being for the occupants of such a dwelling.  Quite a few of these adults and children have encountered war, death and persecution in their homelands and come to Ireland hoping to start a new and better life as quickly as possible.
Hence to find themselves living in such surroundings for a number of years can seriously impact on their wellbeing and on their relationships with others.
So it takes a very special type of person, that is endowed with a heightened awareness and sensitivity towards others, to work with people who may be fragile and vulnerable.
I can honestly say that the Eglinton staff have these qualities in abundance.
I started to work as a volunteer in this centre in 2004. Over the subsequent years, I have helped in setting up a well-equipped Computer Room, an onsite community organic garden, a residents’ committee, a library, a residents’ website and regular offsite recreational/educational activities for all ages.  I have also witnessed the establishment of a crèche, a games zone, the hosting of regular festive parties and excursions, and the active encouragement of involvement by bona fides external organisations and volunteers. None of these developments would have been possible without the generousity of spirit, the genuine sense of caring and concern displayed by the management and staff towards the residents who they treat as equals and indeed as friends.  It says everything when the Eglinton children refer to Anne, Carole and others on the front desk as ‘Auntie’.  For there is a genuine warmth and affection between most staff and residents that very few in the world outside would have ever thought possible in such surroundings.
In my professional capacity as a Science Education and Public Engagement Officer at NUI Galway, I have worked in many other Direct Provision Centres across Ireland. But I have never ever experienced the humanity displayed by the Eglinton staff who time and time again go over and above the call of duty in helping others.
So, as they at long last got to enjoy a late great Christmas Party, I was honoured to be with them in enjoying a night of food, drink and good cheer.
Finally, I join with the staff and residents in extending best wishes to the Eglinton general manager, the hardworking and benign Patrick McGovern, as we eagerly look forward to his return.

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