ONE of the best things about being a parent is giving your children something that makes them smile. Whether that’s a hug, a banana, or a toy might depend on your child, but the only person who can predict what will make that little face gleam with joy is someone who knows them inside and out.
As a parent, you know what your child needs more than anybody else. You know that if they are up for five more minutes the tantrums will start; you know that the milk goes in the yellow cup and not the red one; you know that they like the robot teddy for bedtime and the Fireman Sam one during the day.
The ability to choose for our children is one of many things we take for granted. But it is denied to people living in direct provision.
Children in direct provision in Cork attend the same schools as other children. They watch the same TV programmes, with the same advertising. They know what they don’t have — a home with a kitchen where their parents can cook their food; the latest toys; the runners everyone else in their class is getting.
There are almost 300 children living in direct provision in Cork. They are split between centres in Kinsale Road, Glounthaune, Clonakilty, Millstreet and Mallow. Most of them share a single room with their families. The allowance per person per week is €21.60.
This is to cover shoes, clothes, toiletries, nappies, wipes, dummies, school supplies… all the necessities apart from food and medical expenses. Their parents are not allowed to work or to claim any other social welfare payment.
At Christmas, the division between us and them is thrown into sharp relief. Our collective guilt about the money we will spend, the food we will gorge upon, the mountains of presents we will give and receive, and everything we will throw out, means that it’s the time most of us give to charity, to repay the universe for how lucky we have been to be born in this place and time.
So when Kinsale-based mother of two Ciara McDonnell set up a Christmas fundraiser for children in the Kinsale Road direct provision centre, she was overwhelmed with responses. As a blow-in herself, McDonnell wanted to share some of the generosity she experienced.
With help from long-standing direct provision activist Roos Demol, separate fundraisers for each centre in Cork were set up. In just a couple of weeks, over €11,000 has been raised to allow mothers in direct provision to purchase a gift for their own children this year, but they aren’t finished yet.
“The idea is simple; we want to give every mum living in Direct Provision centres €50 per child to purchase Christmas gifts for their kids. Most of these women haven’t had the opportunity to shop for their kids in years — most of the children wouldn’t dare to dream that they might receive the toy they want the most this Christmas,” she explains.
Along with Cobh-based food writer Lilly Higgins, who has three children, I raised funds for Ashbourne House in Glounthaune, and we hope to get to know residents there and to do more work with them over time.
In Clonakilty, make-up artist Siobhan O’Mahony, mother to four-year-old Jimmy, raised funds for the 46 children in the direct provision centre there through running competitions on her instagram page (Siobhanomahony.ie).
“I’m living two minutes from the lodge in Clonakilty and pass it many times a day so when Ciara asked would I help, it was a no brainer. Lots of the children go to Jimmy’s Montessori and the thought of them not getting a present they would like when, honestly, my child gets too much, was heartbreaking,” explains Siobhan.
Businesswoman and mum of two Kate Durrant fundraised for the children in Mallow’s direct provision centre, while illustrator Hazel Hurley is currently working with the centre social worker on a fundraiser for the Millstreet centre, which has the largest number of children.
“Childhood is such a special time and shapes who you will become. Parents only want to provide the best for their kids but in this situation are being prevented from doing so, perhaps for many years and with no end in sight,” Hazel explains.
As Millstreet is the only centre left to cater for, we are asking for Cork to come together and ensure that no child in the county is left behind this year. People around the country have already opened their hearts and their wallets to the campaign, and we’ve secured enough funds to cover gifts for children at Kinsale Road, Glounthaune, Mallow and Clonakilty,” explains Ciara.
“Now we want to help the families living at Millstreet. It’s a big ask. There are 144 children living at the centre, so we will need all the help we can get, but I have no doubt that Cork will come together and help us get there.”