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Parishioners and asylum seekers unite

Saint Francis Xavier (SFX) parishioners accompanied asylum seekers from Jesuit Refugee Service Ireland (JRS) to BITE 2015, an exciting Irish food and drink event at the RDS. The international group consisted of a German, an American, a Singaporean, a South African, a Tunisian, a Spaniard and an Irish person.  The trip took place on Friday November 20th and the cost was covered by the Jesuits.

Casual introductions were made on a cold, windy and sunny day, and the asylum seekers and parishioners jumped onto Dublin Bus in high spirits with a willingness to connect with each other. Parishioner Gavin T. Murphy said, ‘BITE 2015 brought hundreds of food samples our way as we nibbled on mango yoghurt, sweet chilli popcorn and crisps.’ A short while later the group of seven were recruited to be part of Dublin Cookery School’s live exhibition, where they were bibbed up to cook a vegetarian cake with ingredients such as spinach, chick peas and spices. ‘We paired up with each other,’ says Gavin, ‘We followed the celebrity chef’s instructions through chopping, frying and smelling, until we finally devoured our creation.’

This activity helped the group get to know each other better and to have a great time together, as seen from the photo at the chef’s cooking station. JRS Ireland host Marta Hernandez reported, ‘The cooking exhibition was particularly relevant for us since no cooking takes place throughout the country in Direct Provision Centres. These are former hostels, B&Bs, prefabs where asylum seekers are accommodated while their application is being processed.’

Next, asylum seekers and parishioners wandered over to the Irish Times talk where they sat at a table which was laid out with a newspaper like an Irish Sunday ritual. Eunice Power was interviewed about Flavours of the Middle East and Christmas recipes, and she opened up the platform so that the audience could ask her cooking questions. The seven companions were kept occupied by reading, chatting and exchanging pictures and they even managed to get another photo on stage. Gavin noted, ‘We connected with a lady from the national newspaper who was interested in our intercultural group; we conversed about Belvedere College, the Jesuit school situated in the SFX parish with its yearly trip to India and charitable endeavours. We hope to keep in touch with the Irish Times.’

More grub was tasted: lots of cheeses; butter that looked like cheese; fruit cordials; apple juice; pastries; black & white pudding; Christmas pudding; coffee and so on. A number of good humoured British sales people showcased their kitchen products like non-stick pans; a whisk that whips up milk froth for lattes and cappuccinos; and a utensil that turns cucumber or butternut squash into a spaghetti-like culinary display. ‘We enjoyed the demonstrations but we were not convinced about how long the utensils would last in the kitchen,’ said Marta, ‘Even though the products seemed to be at a good Irish price, reality hit home because asylum seekers in Direct Provision only receive €19.10 per week for an adult and €9.60 for a child.’

The companions ate more bits and departed in good form crossing the road to Ballsbridge village for lunch; Marta priced a few eateries and decided on an Irish pub. Gavin was moved, ‘The Tunisian lady showed us a colourful range of dresses which she made in her homeland; she does not produce anything at the moment due to no available sewing machine but this did not stop her from sharing her passion.’ Education was spoken of, which was a common interest to all.

The outing soon came to a close as the group took the bus back through the city. They sat next to each other and chatted away; three people were writers so they spurred each other on with creative ideas. The EPIC Programme, an office opposite to the GPO was pointed out by Marta: ‘They help migrants work on their employability skills and to be set-up with 6 week work placements.’ She also informed the parishioners on upcoming JRS Ireland events such as participating in the next ISG (Integration Support Group) planned for early December or donating to the Christmas Toy Appeal.

All in all, the trip was a great success. A step forward was made towards reaching out to people most in need and the parishioners probably received much more than they gave; a win-win situation for everyone! A growing friendship between JRS Ireland asylum seekers and SFX parishioners is prayed for.

Photo courtesy of JRS Ireland