IF you’ve seen a familiar face on RTÉ’s Today recently, no need to blink twice. It was indeed Cork resident, Sharin Pillay, receiving a makeover from The Glam Squad as reward for her amazing voluntary contributions to the community.
Sharin is of Indian heritage but she is from South Africa. She and her children came to Ireland for a six-week summer holiday but while here it became far too dangerous for them to return.
Sharin and her children, Wahid, Kyleen and Ephraim, have been in Direct Provision for three years now. Despite the constraints that come with that, Sharin spends her days caring for others.
A typical day for her involves translating and helping others at the Direct Provision centre with their paperwork, and baking. She is an integral volunteer with Consider It Cakes, an organisation dedicated to bringing a little joy to the homeless and asylum-seekers in Ireland, through birthday cakes and treat days, donated by hobby bakers across the country.
Franciska Acs, founder of Consider It Cakes, said: “Sharin is one of the kindest people I have ever met. She is crucial for all Cork-based Conisder It Cakes activities as she is the bridge between the bakers and the residents in the DP centres.
“Sharin is managing all birthdays and organises treat days for the children on Christmas, Valentine’s Day, you name it.
“She is a power woman and beautiful inside and out – Consider It Cakes wouldn’t be the same without her. I know the residents are so grateful for her passion to spread happiness in the centres. She really helps us to bake the world a better place, one cake at a time.”
Sharin manages to do all this, to give so much help and bring so much joy, while raising three children in Direct Provision.
“It’s not the easiest way to raise kids,” says Sharin, “as there is little privacy and space. However, I do what I can. The centre’s management and staff have played an integral part in my kids’ lives as they really do their best to make it a great environment, given the circumstances.
“I always say that living in DP can be difficult from time to time but I try to be as positive as I can.”
And her positivity shows through her willingness and drive to help others.
“My amazing mother taught me that we should always be thankful and appreciate what we have and what others do for us. Thus it became a passion of mine to help in these little ways. It’s my way of giving back.”
You might wonder, how does Sharin look after herself, while looking after everyone else? That’s where Sanctuary Runners come in. They are an incredible group that focus on solidarity-through-sport and use running, jogging and walking to bring together asylum-seekers, refugees, migrants and all Irish residents. At first, Sharin joined get out of her room but it has become so much more to her since then.
This year, the Sanctuary Runners are the Grand Marshals of the Cork city St Patrick’s Day parade.
Sharin said: “I just love how fun and amazing it is to be part of such an incredible group. I’ve made so many friends and good memories with them.”
And they love her. They recognise all that she does for everyone else and so it is no surprise that the founder and CEO of Sanctuary Runners, Graham Clifford, nominated Sharin for her Glam Squad makeover on Today.
“Sharin is one of the most wonderful and kind people you’ll ever meet. She is a great mother and someone who gives her all for her children. As a Sanctuary Runner, she spoils us with amazing cakes and is always so positive and supportive – even when her own situation is far from ideal,” he said. “Living in Direct Provision takes its toll, its sapping of motivation, energy and sometimes hope.
“So, when the opportunity came to nominate someone who deserved some pampering just for them, Sharin immediately came to mind.”
The Glam Squad and RTÉ Cork staff were so drawn to how lovely, humble, kind and grateful Sharin is for everything that has happened to her since her arrival in Ireland.
“It was a truly remarkable experience. I felt like a queen,” Sharin said.
“Everyone was so kind and they made me feel special. I am blessed to have experienced it.”
She was taken well care of by the Glam Squad team - Pamela Morrissey of Sobe Brown who took care of hair, Ally Garvey, who did make-up, and stylist Fiona Hayes of fhstyle. The clothes were from www.shaws.ie
Sharin isn’t quitting any of her voluntary work any time soon. In fact, she wants to do more.
“I would love to do a community development course so that I can be more involved in communities.”
Her other goal is to see her cake baking take off as a successful business venture in Cork too.
Despite the housing crisis, she’d love to remain in the Cork area once she and her kids can move out of Direct Provision.
“I love how friendly and welcoming the people are. The sense of community is absolutely incredible.”