The Choices Department of St John of God Carmona Services provides employment support and integrated further education to people with moderate learning disabilities in the South Dublin and North Wicklow area. Many of our service users are in much more regular contact with people from diverse cultures than they would have been in the past—through employment, independent travel, leisure, etc. It has become obvious to us as a service that we have a responsibility to offer education and awareness around the subject of racism, especially since we aim to facilitate as many integrated options as possible for our service users.
With so many people from different countries and ethnic backgrounds now in Irish society, the problem of racism has become very serious. The Anti-Racism Awareness Programme, KNOW RACISM, supported Carmona Services in developing initiatives to promote inclusive approaches to minority ethnic groups, with a special focus on Africa. The scheme became known as ‘Project Africa’ and comprised a variety of innovative methodologies that cumulatively aimed to facilitate better intercultural understanding of Africa as a continent—its history, diversity, customs and traditions.
Among the activities offered were basic courses about the economic situation in Africa, through its history and geography, the story of slavery and how racism came into being. Speakers to the group included Fossy Barholm from Kenya; Elizabeth Mulville, Information Officer at the South African Embassy; Paul Iwala, Anti-Racism campaigner, and Patsy Toland from the SELF HELP organisation based in Carlow. Art workshops producing masks, jewelry and African art, and singing and drumming workshops were facilitated. As the project gained momentum, it was decided to share our enthusiasm beyond of the Choices Department. John McManus of Choices set about organising an African Festival in Carmona to celebrate International Day Against Racism.
The African Festival was largely based in The Oasis (Carmona’s Restaurant) which involved the whole Carmona service and included music, dancing, African Fair Trade food and information sharing in a relaxed fun atmosphere. Special guests included a group of asylum seekers and their small children who arrived in their wonderful traditional costumes.
The highlight of ‘Project Africa’, however, took place on 26 July—a music and poetry event called ‘The Carmona Mardi Gras’. We were treated to an extravaganza of powerful singing from a group of very talented young Nigerian singers called Adin Oyen (the Sweetness of Honey) who recently preformed with Calypso Productions in The Samuel Beckett Theatre. We also had very gifted performances from Karen Chapman and her father Jack from South Carolina. Master of Ceremonies for the day was the well-known actor Michael Ford, who gave a moving recitation of The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde.
Powerful African poetry readings by Fossy Barholm and Charlie Sundstrom reflected on the need for deeper understanding of injustice in the continent of Africa. Aimee Richardson from Carmona played some Irish airs on the harp and tin whistle, as an Irish complement to the African celebrations. A stunning, high-energy performance of a group of drummers had everyone on their feet dancing and showing their appreciation.
About 250 guests attended the performance—including Carmona service users, staff, volunteers, their families, friends and guests. KNOW RACISM emblems were distributed to the audience, who wore them with pride. At the end of the show the audience and performers chatted and mingled over a delicious meal.
This project set out to improve cultural awareness among service users, staff and families in Carmona Services. We adopted an innovative approach that involved maximising the use of performing arts to deliver the message and ultimately provided a platform for our service users and staff to get to know about the culture and people of Africa. The project has been a great success and has helped us all to nurture a deeper understanding and respect for our African neighbours and colleagues with whom we look forward to developing further links.