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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -2°C
CJ Nash Mary and Wassim

'Why I gave 26-year-old Syrian refugee, Wassim, a room in my home'

“The only difference between them and us is luck and it is, it’s just luck. It could have been me.”

THE IRISH RED Cross is facilitating the placement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into medium to long term accommodation across the country, and since August 2017 has placed 65 refugees into housing.

This follows from a request made by the Department of Justice and Equality to the Irish Red Cross in the autumn of 2015 to manage a register of pledges for accommodation, goods, and services made by the Irish public on a charitable basis. As a result, the Irish people made 832 pledges. Three quarters of these pledges were for accommodation while the remainder were for goods and services.

Mary O’Reilly who lives in Baldoyle in Dublin explains why she decided to give 26-year-old Syrian refugee Wassim a room in her home which looks over beautiful Dublin Bay in Baldoyle, Co Dublin.

Mary Wassim and Lolly 2 CJ Nash CJ Nash

You know when people say it was when they saw the child on the beach, but it wasn’t that for me. It was before that. It was two years ago that I put my name down on the Register of Pledges.

I have a house here with a spare room and I heard somebody say – and it is so true – the only difference between them and us is luck and it is, it’s just luck. It could have been me, you know. These people were running for their lives. I felt it was the right thing to do and I’ve been blessed in everything I have. It was time to give back.

So that was two years ago, and the Irish Red Cross would contact me every couple of months to make sure I was still interested and I’d go: “Yea, yea I’m still available.” Then the call came saying: “Mary. we have somebody for you.”

I only got about a week’s notice that Wassim was coming so there was no pulling out.

I had taken redundancy from working with Irish Life to look after my mother, but she passed four years ago and I’m here all the time which means I can be here to help him. It’s not that I was at a loss though – I wasn’t just doing it for something to do, if I was working I would still have done it.

Wassim’s arrival

When he first arrived, Wassim was giving his family tours of my gaff via FaceTime. He was walking around the house showing them the sea, showing them me.

Wassim comes from Al-Zabadani, a city high in the mountains on the Lebanese border in southwestern Syria. His father ran a construction and horticultural business growing apple and peach trees. Wassim had been working as a manager with his father and was going to take over the family business. His home and the business have since been destroyed.

The war really took its toll on Al-Zabadani – nobody lives there now – it’s a city of ruins. His family moved nearer to Damascus but again were forced to leave because of the war. In 2013 they fled to Lebanon.

In January 2016, Wassim and his 17-year-old cousin Rami left Lebanon for Turkey. Then they made their way to Greece by boat. Can you imagine if you were 17, making that journey not knowing what lay ahead? Leaving your family behind, facing into a new culture, a new language… Would I have had the courage? I don’t know.

An injection of Middle Eastern culture

For all he has been through, he’s so good humoured – a typical 26-year-old. I’m enjoying having an injection of Middle Eastern culture into my home.

He loves cooking. He cooks for hours, all these little meals and, of course, I have to sample all the food he makes, such as his fatteh (a chickpea dish) and home-made hummus with Syrian bread.

I love different cultures. I went to Cuba this year. I love travelling and I would love to have gone to Damascus, but now I have this culture come and live with me.

If there’s one downside to having Wassim stay with me it’s that he gets on a little too well with Lolly, my Tibetan terrier. It’s double the tidbits for her.

I don’t think welcoming Wassim into my home was a big deal, but friends I know had said to me: “No way Mary, are you mad?” One lad said to me: “Good on you. A lot of people talk the talk but you’re walking the walk.”

I don’t think it’s a great thing to do, I really don’t. If anything I’ve been enriched by the experience. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s my nature, but lots of people take in an Irish person. What’s the difference, are we not all the same?

Mary O’Reilly was speaking in conversation with

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