The Croí na Gaillimhe Resource Centre began life as a 19th century water mill, owned by local merchants. After the mill fell out of use and the building became derelict, it was eventually donated to SVP. In the 1940s, it was occupied by the Catholic Young Men’s Society and the Credit Union in the latter half of the 20th century.
Designated as a heritage building, the local SVP took it over in the early 2000s and extensively renovated the interior for use as a resource centre. This was funded by the bequest of Maureen O’Connell, a very successful and celebrated Galway publican. The centre opened in 2009 and today, with continued generosity such as yours, over 400 people pass through its doors every week.
Reunited with Old Friends
“I first came here in 2009 for the creative writing classes. Then I came back when I heard of the dinners
,” Joan tells us with a chuckle. She is one of 21 people here today for the older person’s dinner and social club. It is a chance for older people living on their own to make friends and do activities, twice a week. Dinner is followed by bingo, floor games, art, computers, writing or even dancing classes. They have parties on special occasions.
“I was one of the founder members of the local Credit Union in the early sixties
,” Joan reveals.
“This building was the head office. I’ve always felt a connection to it. It means a lot to me to get to come here once a week. I’m on my own at home and it can be very lonely. When I come here I bump into friends I haven’t seen for years!
Supporting Asylum Seekers
There are two large direct provision hostels located in Galway. They house over 350 asylum seekers: men, women and children. SVP volunteers who visited these centres saw how isolated and sad their lives were. Some have been waiting up to ten years before a final decision was made on their refugee status. They share bedrooms for years with strangers and have little control over their lives.
Because of compassionate supporters such as you, volunteers at Croí na Gaillimhe can respond to whatever needs they find in the community. They invited asylum seekers into the centre to take part in classes and activities. This includes conversational English classes, computer classes, sewing and integration programmes such as the ‘One World Voices’ community choir. They also provide intensive one-to-one help with their asylum applications.
From Refugee to Board Member
Joyce came to Ireland from war-ravaged South Sudan in 2007. After three years keeping to herself in a Galway hostel, she heard about Croí na Gaillimhe. She first came to the centre in 2010 to take part in a course called ‘Training for Transformation’. It teaches asylum seekers and volunteers community self-awareness, how to live in different situations and about Irish society.
“I had been in this country for three years but my life only started in this centre,
” Joyce says with emotion in her voice. “At the hostel all I could do was eat and sleep. When I arrived here that first day, everyone made me feel so at home. They didn’t care about my colour or how I spoke English.
“I joined other activities too. I volunteered at the older person’s social club. It was like having family again. People would stop and talk to me on the street. This led me to volunteer with other community groups too. I helped with children and the homeless.
Today I’ve been granted my refugee status and I work in an afterschool centre for children with disabilities. But I’ll never forget SVP and the kindness extended to me because of the donors. I became an official member of SVP in 2013 and joined the Conference that runs this special place. What it provides for the community is invaluable, I just can’t put it into words!
One of these invaluable services is the Homework Club. It is an outreach programme based in the hostels four afternoons a week. Twenty volunteers take turns helping over thirty children with their homework. They also organise trips to play parks, farms, museums and attractions.
Asylum seekers only receive €21.60 each per week to survive on. Paying for any activities for their children after food and clothes is very difficult. Croí na Gaillimhe uses donations such as yours to arrange activities like swimming and football.
“From the first day I started I absolutely loved it,
” says Aideen, a retired Montessori teacher turned volunteer. “Considering what they’ve been through, they’re the happiest children I’ve ever seen – it amazes me! I’ve never worked with children so excited to learn. To have someone listen to them. At the moment my class are all learning the tin whistle, it’s very funny.
“They treat us volunteers like celebrities. Just recently I got on a bus in the city and a bunch of them were there. ‘Aideen! Aideen!’, they started shouting. They were just delighted to see somebody they knew. I don’t think I’ve ever been greeted like it in my life.
Tea, Talk and Tai Chi
The three ‘T’s. They form the basis of a two-hour session each Thursday. The Men’s Social Group. It is led by Felim, another retired teacher and long-time community activist. He also has fifteen years experience in Chinese Tai Chi. Men come from all walks of life – the local community, homeless hostels, supported accommodation and the direct provision centre. It is a chance for Irish and ‘New Irish’ to mix and socialise. The first hour might be games like chess or cards or just having a chat. Then in the second hour they all get up on their legs and do some exercise.
Based on true stories from people helped by SVP. Images, names and some details have been changed for confidentiality.