We Are All Human

We Are All Human is an outward looking, compassionate approach to the refugee crisis, created by a group of students in Largy College, Clones. It is an immense effort to create a safe and inclusive space in their community for their new Syrian neighbours. The project expanded on the idea that people who become refugees or seek asylum in other countries do so not by choice, but because they are forced to.

Who We Are

We are Caitlin Connolly, Monika Gudenaite, Ruth Madden, Abigail McGuirk and Aaron McMahon, a group of students from Largy College, Clones in Co Monaghan.

What We Did

‘We Are All Human’ as a project, focused on promoting the rights and dignity of asylum seeking and refugee people. We worked to make our own community a more welcoming place for people new to Clones, particularly families who came to Clones through the Syrian Resettlement Programme.  The project aimed to foster friendship and understanding and to dispel prejudice and the impact of prejudice. 

Why We Did It

We knew at the end of Third Year that Syrian families would be resettled in Clones over the summer. Realising that in September, our school and the local primary school would enrol Syrian young people and children, we decided to run a campaign that would aim to make the transition into our community as easy, friendly and welcoming as possible. 

When September arrived, our Transition Year Programme began.  Little did we realise the journey we were about to embark on, and it was our honour and privilege to meet Lilav Mohamed, newest member of Largy College Transition Year, and soon to become our inspiration and our friend.

How We Did It

Feeling that education was key to fostering understanding and warmth, we formulated a workshop that was rolled out to our entire school community before the end of September. We worked on designing and producing a series of educational resources, a children’s book and a board game.  “The Gingerbread Man’s Flight to Freedom’, our book and ‘Lilav’s Journey’, the game, came to fruition with the assistance of Monaghan County Council and Young Social Innovators’ financial support. 

We devised a floor size version of the board game and these resources formed core elements of workshops formulated for local primary schools.  The children’s book and board game are ready for distribution to primary school across the county.  Just before Christmas, a toy drive was organised for St Patrick’s Direct Provision Centre in Monaghan and at a Christmas party, we delivered the hundreds of toys gathered.

Feeling that some practical support for people new to the county would be useful, our team designed an App called Monaghan Welcomes You.  The app provides information on key services in each of the five towns in County Monaghan.  It is available in seven different languages and is free to download from Google Play Store.  We used the language expertise available among students in our year group and their parents.  We are currently working on a website version of the app.

A community event, called, “Flight to Freedom” was designed and organised for Easter.  This event followed a five kilometre route that crossed several real land borders between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland.  The route included several challenges that aimed to simulate the journey and challenges faced by millions of asylum-seeking people every day.  This event was well attended and the feedback from participants confirmed that it opened the eyes of local people to the plight of families forced to flee. By organising a project launch, we were well positioned to invite local politicians and media to an evening the informed and lobbied for change.  Residents of St Patrick’s DP centre spoke at this event that included attendees such as county councillors, local TDs and Minister Heather Humphries.  Caroline Reid from the Irish Refugee Council also spoke but undoubtedly, the star of the evening was Lilav, who, despite being in Ireland for less than a year, spoke eloquently about the difficulties her own family endured and also the stress that the 2015 International Protection Act was causing her own family.  Lilav’s nineteen year old sister called Jihan, along with her two infant children, remain trapped in Syria.

Supported by Brenda Clerkin from Monaghan County Council the students sourced funding to expand the initiative. They reached out to local households and businesses in Clones by distributing welcome mats and those who accepted a mat did so on the condition that they pledged their support for people fleeing danger and persecution.

Did We Succeed?

Senator Colette Kelleher invited us to speak in Leinster House about our campaign to seek the ratification of the 2017 Family Reunification Bill. There we presented a petition of 1,700 signatures for change to Senator Kelleher who passed this on to Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan.

As a result of our connection with The Irish Refugee Council and Senator Kelleher, our efforts were covered by The Irish Times, The Irish Independent and Virgin Media TV.  Senator Lynn Ruane covered our story in an article for TheJournal.ie.  We used local radio and newspaper to increase awareness locally.  We ran an Advent Calendar Christmas card campaign to continue lobbying the Minister for Justice for change to the Bill that has received cross-party support.  We continue to garner support for the cause as our toiletries and baby clothes collection was strongly support by our school and community.

We learned that technology is a tricky beast!  We had difficulty with Apple accepting our app on the App Store.  Our app needs refining, we are working on this. While online platforms are great for promotion, the open nature of these platforms can invite dark commentary that can be difficult to ignore.

I find it obscene that Ireland is dragging its feet rather than creating an environment where families torn apart by war can start a new life. They would much prefer to be able to live and flourish in their own homes, in their own countries, but until this is possible we must make our home their home.

Our Government could change that situation easily by passing Senator Colette Kelleher’s Family Reunification bill, which is supported by a substantial majority in both houses of the Oireachtas.

That change could make a huge difference to the lives of refugees living in Ireland. 

It would also demonstrate to all of our young citizens that the Irish people stand in solidarity with those who are forced to flee the horrors of war.

The time is now – we are all human. 

Lynn Ruane, TheJournal.ie 26th May 2019