Integrating into a new community is never easy – there’s the language barrier, societal differences, cultural differences. Now, more than ever, finding ways in which host and immigrant communities can foster relationships to build trust and understanding is crucial to an integrated and healthy society.
Just launched by ChangeX in Ireland, Welcome Dinner by United Invitations aims to introduce new migrants into the country by inviting them for a meal. The concept, which began in Sweden two years ago and is rapidly spreading across Europe, is simple; invite a newly-arrived immigrant to your home, cook them dinner, chat and enjoy each other’s company.
Every day in Ireland, people are arriving on our shores, with no connections to the country, and no opportunities to make these connections. On the other hand, most Irish people do not know any newly arrived immigrants and so, the two cultures remain separate. Welcome Dinner aims to bridge that gap, providing an introduction between the local and the newly arrived immigrant. It’s about sharing language, sharing culture, sharing food. For such a seemingly small and simple step, very real differences can be made in the community.
Set up by Ebba Akerman in Sweden in 2014, United Invitations was formed while Ebba was working as a substitute teacher in the â€˜Swedish for Immigrants’ language program. â€œI had been invited to all kinds of fantastic meals at my students’ houses and felt that more of my native Swedish friends should take part of this. I saw how difficult it is to learn a new language when you have no one to speak it with, and I also became aware of how segregated my hometown Stockholm was. If people were just to meet as fellow humans over a home-cooked meal, I thought we might be able to do something about it.â€
â€œBuilding trust is what we need in society. Sharing a meal is food culture at it’s finest. And having fun is never a bad idea. We believe that integration happens on an individual level & that we all share the responsibility for shaping a world in which we want to liveâ€ – Ebba Akerman, Founder, United Invitations
In Stockholm, there are currently around 100 dinners a month being hosted for immigrants, and this number is growing every month, with hundreds more dinners being hosted throughout Europe. Dozens of people throughout Ireland have already signed up to host a Welcome Dinner on ChangeX. The reasons for signing up vary, but most simply want to be a part of a positive and life-changing movement.
â€œI live in Dublin, Ireland. I moved here from Spain 12 years ago. Irish people make me feel I belong here, even if I wasn’t born here. I want everybody to feel this way about the country they live in. After all, we all belong in the world. And no made up borders should decide who can and who can’t belong in a specific place. I’d love to host a dinner in my place in Dublin, make new friends, and help people belong.â€ – Cristina (Dublin)
â€œFor a few years now I’ve been trying to combine welcoming immigrants and food in my home. Originally I had considered freeing my kitchen for a family to use, since cooking is not allowed in direct provision centres in Ireland. I cannot imagine the impact that has on a family, not being able to cook your own food for your family. The Welcome Dinner is perhaps a gentler approach – both welcoming and interactive.â€ – Marie (Kildare)
â€œI’m worried that all the negative media coverage of migrants and refugees might increase the chance of people having a negative experience when they come to Ireland and I want to help them have a better one.â€ – Grainne (Kilkenny)
â€œI have hosted dinners in the past from people in asylum hostels and found the experience mutually rewarding. I think this is a great initiative, especially as integration into host communities can be very difficult for many immigrants. I work as a social care worker and have a big family who would be happy to share a meal.â€ – Kate (Kerry)