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'They're just regular young people like us' - Teens scoop top prize for welcome given to Syrian refugees

A group of teenagers in Ballaghaderreen have won a top prize at the Foróige Citizenship Awards for their efforts at welcoming Syrian refugees to their town.

NO FEE 2 Aldi Foroige Youth Citizenship Awards (l to r) Sophie Beveridge, Diarmaid Geever, and Jessica Fahy, with their citizenship award Mark Stedman Mark Stedman

A GROUP OF Roscommon teenagers have won a prestigious youth citizenship prize for their efforts at helping Syrian youths to integrate into their hometown.

Ballaghaderreen Foróige Club took the top prize at the recent Aldi Foróige Youth Citizenship awards, which saw 2,300 young Irish people showcasing their efforts at fostering community spirit.

The group’s effort saw them undertake a series of welcome measures for the arriving Syrian teenagers.

The Abbeyfield Hotel in Ballaghaderreen was in January designated as an Eroc (Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre) for refugees who have arrived in Ireland.

The local community in the small town has established a series of ventures with regard to helping the hotel’s residents acclimatise to their new country, including football games and social nights.

Local teenagers Diarmaid Geever, Sophie Beveridge, Hannah Geever, Gemma Hallworth and Jessica Fahy designed a welcome poster and folder for the arriving youths (seven of the initial 80 arrivals in March were teenagers aged between 13 and 16), with individual messages translated into Arabic.

They also arranged a series of social evenings for the newcomers, where those gathered ate baked goods, taught each other how to pronounce each others’ names, and played pool. Individual welcome packs were likewise given to each of the young Syrians, containing handmade friendship bracelets, woolly hats, and chocolate bars.

NO FEE 1 Aldi Foroige Youth Citizenship Awards (l to r) Jessica Fahy, Sophie Beveridge, Diarmaid Geever, Hannah Geever, and Gemma Hallworth with their welcome poster Mark Stedman Mark Stedman

‘Regular people’

16-year-old Diarmaid told that before the arrival of the young refugees, he and his friends “didn’t fully understand what kind of people they were, or what they had been through”.

“Once we met them a very new opinion formed,” he says.

“They’re just regular people like any of us. They like music and dancing, and having fun and socialising. I really couldn’t believe that they were just young people. I just didn’t know.

They’re so friendly and nice, so ready to talk. They were a bit shy and nervous at first, as anyone might be meeting a whole load of new people. But then everyone started talking and having fun and playing games.

Diarmaid says that the language barrier is “no problem at all”. “Body language and hand signals are just as good,” he says.

While the initial group of refugees in Ballaghaderreen are unlikely to be in the town for more than six months (Erocs are designed as temporary orientation centres), Diarmaid is hoping to keep the relationship between the Roscommon teens and their Syrian counterparts going.

“We’d like to meet up once every couple of weeks or so if we can. We definitely intend to keep it going,” he says.

We might go for a few days out and then maybe we’ll go to the beach.

Read: Roscommon town prepares for refugees by building a wall… of welcome

Read: When Syria comes to Roscommon: ‘We can’t run to Mass, then say ‘you’re not welcome”

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