Ireland’s new ‘sanctuary school’ – The Irish Times

On Friday May 13, Creagh College – an Education and Training Board secondary school in Gorey, County Wexford – became the newest sanctuary school in Ireland. The Shrine Movement began at a primary school in a working-class Loyalist area of ​​South Belfast in 2017. The movement’s mission is to foster a culture of welcome and inclusion in Irish, Northern and Irish schools. South, particularly for children of refugee, asylum seeker and other immigrant backgrounds, but also for Irish children who might feel marginalized or excluded. The recent influx of thousands of Ukrainian students has given this fledgling initiative a real boost.

Its resource pack states that by becoming a sanctuary school, “you will provide refuge to those in need and equip pupils and students with cross-cultural skills and the ability to have compassion in what is , for many, a turbulent world. There are now over 50 such schools, primary and secondary, on the island of Ireland, including Dublin, Waterford, Galway, Monaghan, Belfast and Derry. In the Republic they receive no public funding (in the North they receive generous funding from the NI Executive), but are funded by an umbrella group, Places of Sanctuary Ireland (PoSI), entirely from donations charitable.

Monitor its progress

On May 13, I was part of the PoSI team of teachers, refugee support workers and refugees (including refugees from Syria and Ukraine) who visited Creagh College to follow its progress towards decide if it had done enough to be recognized as a school. of the Sanctuary.

It was an inspiring and cacophonous morning. The scene had been set by a portfolio put together by the cultural club of students and teachers at Creagh College. The college opened in 2010 and now has almost a thousand students in a splendid modern building on the outskirts of Gorey. Here, one can study everything from classical studies to agricultural sciences, from philosophy to coding, from digital media education to performing arts, Spanish and Polish (as well as a wide range of common subjects).

I can’t imagine how I would get to a school in one of your countries without a word of your language.

In its introductory portfolio to the Shrine School, the Cultural Club described the range of events and activities the school has carried out in recent years, including Polish and Ukrainian Days; international food festivals; an application on the school’s website to translate its content into different languages; a display of flags in the entrance hall to show the large number of nationalities in the school; Stand Up week for LGBTI+ students; a sanctuary space for students to have a “quiet moment”; and exhibitions of music, dance and art.

There are now students of 48 nationalities at Creagh College, with a recent survey showing that at least 23 different languages ​​- apart from English and Irish – are spoken in student homes. Besides the obvious major languages, these include Urdu, Russian, Turkish, Hungarian, Albanian, Romanian, Korean, Lithuanian, Latvian, Croatian, Afrikaans, Malayalam, Catalan and Bosnian.

Visibly moved

We were greeted by Principal Paul Glynn, visibly moved as he expressed his pride in the accomplishments of his student body in general and his humility at seeing some of his immigrant students overcome major obstacles to further their education.

“I can’t imagine how I would arrive at a school in one of your countries without a word of your language. I’m only happy that we were able to help you through these challenges,” he said. “This school is a wonderful place and we are making it an even better place. I like to think that we can be a refuge and a sanctuary for the many young people in difficult circumstances, both in Ireland and abroad.

We then had Lithuanian dance and Croatian poetry and Irish and international songs from the large multicultural school choir (and soloists), including volume renditions of Fields of Gold, The Foggy Dew, as well as Zombie and Dreams from the Cranberries.

Anyone who doubts the richness of what a multicultural and multiracial student body can bring to an Irish school should visit this extraordinary secondary school

We were shown the artwork “The Welcome Tree” created by the students with its title “Strength in Diversity”; its roots springing from the Creagh ethic of excellence in education, care, community, equality and respect; its sheets representing all the nationalities and cultures of the schools; his butterfly to symbolize the migration of refugees and asylum seekers; and its sunflowers to represent Ukrainian refugees. An LBGTI+ student proudly showed us the cultural club bulletin board with its combination of multicultural and LBGT activities.

Two recent students from Sudan and Georgia and two current students from Pakistan went on to receive individual “Sanctuary Champion” trophies for their academic excellence and courage in overcoming social and cultural barriers. Reem Abubaker from Sudan is now studying French and Linguistics at UCD; Lizi Gelenidze from Georgia is at Trinity College Dublin taking a basic science course and hopes to continue doing medicine next year. They both benefit from Sanctuary scholarships awarded by the Sanctuary’s network of “sister” universities.


Then, as lunchtime approached, it became apparent that a feast was about to be unveiled. Students from over 20 countries presented delicious meals and snacks from home. I sampled chrusciki from Poland; tarrijas from Spain; poffertjes from the Netherlands; tajine from Morocco; sekerpare from Turkey; ausuker from Lithuania; brigadeiro from Brazil and hallve from Albania.

The adjective that comes to mind when I think back to that morning in Gorey is “joyful”. Anyone who doubts the richness of what a multicultural and multiracial student body can bring to an Irish school should visit this extraordinary secondary school, run under the auspices of the Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board. It was a real privilege to be part of the assessment visit which led to the designation of this school as a Sanctuary School, and thus a model for the 300 schools that Places of Sanctuary Ireland plans to so designate over the next three years. years.

Andy Pollak is a board member of Places of Sanctuary Ireland and a former teacher at the Irish Times. corresponding

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