Photo Credit: Andrew Downes of Xposure.
The famous Irish Welcome is alive and kicking, with Irish people inviting newly arrived migrants to their home for a Welcome Dinner.
The concept of Welcome Dinners, which began in Sweden, was introduced to Ireland by ChangeX last year. Since then, Irish people throughout the country have been opening their doors and their minds to those who have left their homes for new shores, providing them with conversation, a meal, and a little taste of what it means to be Irish.
Here we chat to some of the guests and hosts who have taken part in Welcome Dinners in recent weeks.
Connecting in Dublin through Welcome Dinners
Maša-Kristina Golik moved to Ireland in July 2016 from Zagreb, Croatia with her five-year-old son, Neo and husband, Leo. The Golik family were invited to a Welcome Dinner with Pia Fennell and her family through ChangeX.
“We had wonderful time at the dinner. Pia and her family were great hosts. We talked about kids, which we obviously have in common, and lot of other things. The guys were looking for a car online, because my husband is about to buy his first car here, and we discussed the Irish school and health system. I saw that Pia was exhausted because her little son Leo is teething. That reminded me of when my son was a baby and how quickly time passes by. They have recently bought and renovated their house, which is really beautiful and cosy. That was another thing to talk about, because my husband is a tiler and carries out renovations. All in all, it was a very pleasant experience.”
While Pia has always been interested in volunteering and community initiatives, being a mum to small children has meant that finding the time to commit has been a challenge. So when Pia spotted a post on Welcome Dinners on Facebook, her interest was piqued.
“A one-off event sounded perfect. Plus, we have friends over for dinner all the time and love cooking for others,” says Pia, whose evening with Maša and her husband began with a ‘getting-to-know-you’ chat over beer and wine. “We sat down to dinner a short while later, and asked them loads of questions about what Croatia is like, how they are finding Dublin, etc. After dinner, we set the kids up with a movie and my husband and I tried to answer practical questions about things like tax, PPS numbers, buying a car, finding schools – things like that. They were having trouble finding affordable housing in Dublin, and so were moving to Meath in the following few days. I think our guests appreciated the chance to ask practical questions about living in Ireland, while I enjoyed being able to provide them with useful information. Plus, I always love a reason to cook a big dinner.”
Welcome Dinners the Connemara Way
Julia Roddy, her husband Michael and their children hosted Peju Basira Awoyemi and her daughter Nike from Nigeria, who have been living in Direct Provision in Galway for a number of years. “When I found Welcome Dinners on Facebook, I thought ‘What a great idea!’,” says Julia. “I was feeling frustrated with the fact I couldn’t do anything regarding my upset at the current refugee crisis. So my decision to host refugees came from a purely selfish place; I wanted to feel better!
Through ChangeX, Julia connected with her guests Pedju and Nike…and then the reality set in! “I have a family of five and I was inviting complete strangers into my home; foreign ones at that. But my young boys and husband Micheal didn’t take long to warm up to the idea, and we set about tidying up, and planning a menu.”
After picking up Nike and Peju from their hotel room and taking them to Julia and Michael’s home in Inverin, Connemara, they began an enjoyable evening where they ate, chatted and laughed, and then went for a bracing walk up the Connemara bog, followed by a stroll by the sea. After a wonderfully successful evening, Julia immediately invited Nike and Peju over for another meal – this time cooked by them using Nigerian recipes.
A Night out from Direct Provision
Sadhbh Lee welcomed Wendy Mlalazi and Felistus Chiswamu from Zimbabwe, who are also in the Direct Provision Centre in Galway.
“Welcome Dinners immediately appealed to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, I love cooking, especially for other people, and I relish the idea of making dinner for a group at any time. I also thought it was a cool, innovative way of connecting with people who are new to Ireland, as it can be hard sometimes for Irish nationals and incoming migrants to meet and mingle, especially for those caught in limbo in direct provision. Above all, I saw it as an opportunity to genuinely welcome someone to Ireland, by inviting them into my home – something that is generally seen as an intimate affair, that you do only with friends.”
Feeling a little nervous in the run-up to the dinner, Sadhbh says her worries were quashed almost instantly when she picked up the women and they embraced warmly. “Wendy and Felistas were friendly, funny and talkative, and there was no shortage of conversation throughout the night. We ate, we drank wine and we talked about their country, our country, work, music taste and anything else that came up.”
Having stayed in contact with both women since the dinner, Sadhbh is also hoping to host another dinner for another group in the coming weeks, and says she would “100 per cent” encourage anyone who might be interested to get involved.” It’s not hard. It’s not weird. It’s not awkward. It’s entertaining and it’s rewarding and it’s kind. All you need to do is bring an open mind and an opened bottle of wine!”