They are paired with volunteers who are committed to helping them find a verbal footing in the city and make valuable friendships and connections in the process.
We hear their stories.
Angela Moynan is married with five children and lives locally. She has been a volunteer with Warrenmount for many years and been a volunteer for almost five years. She is retired and previously worked in the financial services business.
“I feel that it’s a kind of a privilege.”
“For many years I did some work with NALA (National Adult Literary Agency) in Inchicore. I suppose we are all under the same umbrella. I find it absolutely wonderful, I really enjoy it, I feel like I’m giving something back to our local community here, and I love engaging with people here from all kinds of wonderful places, hearing their stories. I feel that it’s a kind of a privilege to be able to.
“The circumstances of people attending here are very different. For many years, it was Irish people who, for one reason or another, fell through the net and needed to improve their literacy skills. Now many of those here are well educated and need to improve their English to find professional work. Lately we have also had people who for one reason or another, probably due to circumstances in their own country like war, have had to leave and have never learned English.
“Some people are very open, very forthcoming and vivacious. But then you find other people who hold back a little bit and are maybe a little bit nervous of the whole thing. It’s been a wonderful experience for me here it really has.
“The volunteers play an enormous role here. The centre would struggle to cope if they didn’t have a core who are very willing to come and give their time.”
Michelle Santos is from São Paulo. She trained as a psychologist but moved here a year ago because her husband works here.
“In Brazil, I worked with deaf people because I speak sign language. Three weeks ago I started Irish sign language because I would like to continue to work with deaf people. I miss my family but my life in Ireland is good because it is safe. In São Paulo safety is a concern. I think the Irish people are very polite and my experience here is very good.”
Gbemi Owolaei is from Nigeria and runs the cafe in the centre. She studied food, science and technology in Nigeria and finished a Hospitality Management course in DIT last year. She does cookery demos in the centre every week.
“If I had to compare the medical (system) here with Germany, then I would score Ireland zero.”
“Me and my family have been here since 2005. We were formerly in Germany and then my husband was transferred here. I only joined the Center in November of last year so my experience so far has been very lovely, very accommodating.
“My siblings and dad are still in Nigeria. Technology has made it easier – Snapchat, facebook and everything. I live in Balbriggan and we have a good number of Nigerians living there. I attend church here. We meet up after that.
“Transportation here is very annoying. The network is so poor. When you come down from a train, then have to wait another 30 minutes for a bus and it depends on the day, At the weekend it’s worse. If I had to compare the medical (system) here with Germany, then I would score Ireland zero. If you have never been anywhere, it’s ok because you have no means of comparison. To get children into schools, alot of work is given to parents. In Germany, it’s automatic.
“I have to be truthful, I have not experienced racism in Ireland.”
Pauline McGaley is the Centre Director of the Warrenmount Community Education Centre. She is a Presentation Sister who has been there since its inception 22 years ago.
“It’s a really exciting thing for community education, there’s something for everybody. We have almost 400 students coming here a year.”
“The project was set up by the Presentation Sisters 22 years ago. We looked to areas of unmet need, that was the expression then. We wanted to fill in the gap between the parents in the school and the whole poverty gap back then. Parents didn’t have the education so obviously it was creating another generation. Dublin was typically high unemployment and low educational attainment.
“I came here from Terenure where I was the Principal in the Presentation Primary School. I went to Maynooth where I did my HDip in Adult Community Ed. and then I was asked to start this. We started with 16 pupils. They were so interested in education but had never had the opportunity. These were women, at this stage, in their late 40s early 50s, were the ones who missed out on the free education. They just gobbled up everything we had.
“It’s a really exciting thing for community education, there’s something for everybody. We have almost 400 students coming here a year.
“You pick up life wherever it is. There’s no point in looking back, there’s only the now. There’s no guarantees. That whole thing of mindfulness and that kind of spirituality in its broadest context is something that we have been doing but maybe didn’t realise it. We are trying to live in the present moment while preparing as much as we can, projecting into the future, from the present.
“I’ve been through it all. Challenge is good. If you open the doors and let the air in, the wind might knock the air out of you but it’s good. The dark isn’t good, but I suppose you can’t recognise the light if you don’t see the dark.
“I was in school when Vatican II came in. So through my schooling, I experienced a kind of a change and questioning. And in second level the entire thing was around ‘you don’t want a religion class you want to question religion’ which was pooled ignorance most of the time, but we thought it was just so wonderful. And I entered in the 70’s and it was unpopular even then to enter into religious life. Because we were already on a bad cusp, I suppose the advent of the outside world, television, and otherwise was already changing things, whether it was good bad or indifferent, it was the reality.
“I live in a community of 12 women and they are as varied as the community I live in here. And that’s life, that’s life. You have to try and sift through who you are yourself and where you are in the context. And when you’re comfortable in your own self in so far as you can be. You have to have corners knocked off. You have to have questioning or you stagnate.
“I believe a community education centre should be big enough to be viable and small enough to know the individual people. Once you can call somebody by name, they cease to become ‘them’ and become ‘us’. They become a person, and that’s what its all about, the education, training, who people are is kind of secondary to respecting them as an individual, as a person.
“Our population as a congregation is mainly in Pakistan or India. And where you are is so dependent on where you live in history, and that’s just a reality. I feel that our work in education Ireland is finished for a number of reasons. For one we don’t have numbers but we don’t have the same need. I had one of our sisters who was going to Pakistan say to me, “If I stay in Ireland, there’s still no child who won’t be educated because I’m here, they are going to get an education anyway. But if I go to Pakistan there are maybe 40-50 girls in a class that I can influence and educate.”
“In the Ireland of yesterday there was so much about expectation, and so much about power, and who the educated people were, and I think that lasted for far too long in all spheres of life. And then when the outside world influence came in, I’m not sure that we as an Irish nation dealt with it as well as we should because it was a slap bang, everything at the centre of authority in the past 20 years has gone. The church would be number one, even the medical profession, the guards, the army; we’ve seen all these big figures of authority. I suppose if it had been maybe thought about it more we could have done it differently. It seems to be slap, bang, throw everything out. Because we are an educated population, maybe we should be able to talk more unemotionally about things. There are things that happened that shouldn’t ever have happened and the whole thing in the church was horrific, and of course, it affected us. If it didn’t affect us there would have been something wrong. I would be very worried if I was left unaffected by it. But, it’s an opportunity for growth, for apology, for looking back and looking forward but for living in the present.
“I was there in the Park the last time the pope came. It was just incredible, just walking through the darkness into the park. It was a silent walking, the power of footsteps coming through the darkness, it was quite incredible. I suppose it was probably a sound of faith. I don’t think it can be recaptured because it belonged to a different time. It was 1979. Life is not the same, we are in a very different Ireland now.
To me, this is community, we are all in this together.”
Julie Lordan has been with the centre around five years. She works as a journalist and sub-editor.
“I’ve met so many people with different backgrounds. There are people here who are students, immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.”
“I did a TEFL course but it was not for me. I hated the stress and found it quite pressurising. I really thought I’d love to put to use what I learned though. This is mostly conversation but I like to sneak in grammar. It’s constantly changing. I’ve met so many people with different backgrounds. There are people here who are students, immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. There’s people who have lived here ten years but only spoken their native language.”
“The last time I had a Syrian student who had been in the army there. He had a perspective of what was happening there that was quite different. He was pro-Assad. He would get quite angry at a news item and I found that fascinating. We might disagree but we couldn’t let it take over the class.
“One thing I do notice is nearly all the students have a certain level of homesickness.”
Agostina Di Bari is 19 and from Puglia in Italy. She has just completed Classical Studies in High School.
“I want to study Tourism and Marketing in Dublin. I want to improve my English. It is important. It is a universal language. The course is very organised. The teachers are prepared and are experienced.
I love Dublin. My mind has become open. I love the difference of culture, the difference of language.”
Nury Tabara is originally from Lima in Peru. She moved here from Spain and now lives in Tallaght.
“I am in Dublin for my children. I have two of them here. They need to learn English. We came for two years. The last year we decided to stay here long term. In my city, I don’t use umbrellas. No cold. I love the stone of the buildings here. There’s no colour.
In two years, my children speak English well. It is more difficult for me without the language. My friends are Venezuelan. I don’t have Irish ones.”
Alicia Byrne has been a tutor at the centre since 2003 when she retired from her job at the Bank of Ireland.
“I come here one day a week. The Centre has changed so much. Once they were all locals who didn’t have a chance to get an education the first time round. We now have this wonderful selection of international people coming in here with an education already. I enjoy it here. It’s great to meet people from other countries and realise their calibre and what a benefit they are to this country. The hunger to learn is there.
“You need to be doing something. You need to be giving back.”
Bogumila Brodowska is a Polish teacher living here. She teaches Polish to Irish people and her own Polish community here.
“There are a lot of Polish people here. Here, I teach primary school and Irish adults the Polish language. I taught in Poland for 28 years and here for six and a half. I do not intend to go back to Poland. One of my sons is in London, one son is in Amsterdam and the other son is in Sydney. I have one sister who lives in Spain.
“I live in Dublin 1. I like one neighbour. I call into her once a week and we cook together. I cook Polish food and Monica cooks Irish food.
Maria Santos is from Salvador in Brazil and has been living here eight years. Her husband is Irish.
“I had never been here before and knew very little about Ireland. I have only been home twice. I love living here. I have some friends here from Brazil but if I speak Portuguese all the time, I won’t develop my English.
“There are lovely people here. I want to be a volunteer when my English is well developed. I want to help other people. I worked as a teacher in Brazil and childcare here. I feel integrated here. I am in touch with my husband’s family and neighbours.”
Finian O’Shea spent 22 years teaching in the Church of Ireland college.
“The experience has been very challenging because I am also learning Spanish as a first time learner. When others are struggling for a word, I know what that is like. I can appreciate how difficult it is to learn another language and speak like a native.
“Any effort they make is huge. It takes a lot of bravery to speak a language badly to a native speaker. I admire and applaud what they do. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to come here and learn what is like to be a learner.”
Aldo Souza is from Brazil and has been here for nine months.
“I have a degree in Politics in Brazil. I live in Dublin 8 with colleagues. have been here for nine months. I was in London for one month before. London is gorgeous, big city but I love Dublin. For me Dublin is more secure. Brazil is less safe, it is more dangerous. I want to go back to Brazil and help poor people speak English there.”
Nijole Nasickiene is from Lithuania and came here seven years ago. In the future, she plans on being a tour guide for Eastern European tourists.
“A lot of people here call me Nicole. I don’t like it. I was a newsreader and programme maker on TV. My daughter moved here and my grandsons live here and grow up. I worked in an Irish company who had relations with Eastern European countries. I spent a lot of time travelling. I decided, for one year, to just study English. I study every morning. I walk on from Dublin 4 to here for one hour. A lot of people my age go to retire, I decided I wanted to be a student. This city is beautiful. I think it can be mine.”
Mayda Companhone is Brazilian. Her mother’s family is Portugese and her father’s is Italian. She originally came here to work as an au pair and now wants to work in digital marketing.
“It is my second time here in Ireland. I have a European passport now. I would like to have a good opportunity here. I need to improve my English if I want to stay here and get a better job. Ireland to me is my home.
“I studied digital marketing and social media a year ago. My goal is to work in that here. The salary is really good here compared to other countries. My options were Ireland, England (not like) or Malta to study English.
“The weather is not so good. I used to live in a tropical country. I would like to stay here a long time and have a normal life here.”
Eamonn Coates is a retired accountant.
“I read about Failte Isteach in a magazine and came in and met Pauline. There are three things that need to be achieved in voluntary work. One, you have to like what you are doing. You have to suit the organisation you are doing it for and the people you are helping.”
Nuala Gray is a retired Dubliner and a relatively recent addition to the volunteers.
“After I retired, I started doing voluntary work in the language centre in the hospice in Harold’s Cross. When I was tutoring there, I did a TEFL course in town and got interested in teaching English as a foreign language. It’s been a very enlightening and rewarding experience. I thoroughly enjoy it.”
Igor Malnyk is from the Ukraine and has been living here 16 years.
“In my first job, I worked all day in repairs. It was not possible to speak English. It is a big problem not having English. My wife, brother and cousin are here. Maybe I will stay here two or three years more and then go home. My children and grandchildren are there.”
Christina Murtagh is a recently retired nurse and midwife.
“I worked for many years abroad and I experienced what it’s like going into a country and not being able to speak the language. Then when i retired, I wanted to do something completely different. I’m with a hill-walking group and do yoga too.
“I’ve been here since September. It’s been a very positive experience. There’s no pressure on people. We always have a laugh in the group.”
Shamsun Alam is from Burma and arrived here five months ago. His parents moved here nine years ago.
“I am so happy here. I started at the centre last month. I would like to improve my English and communicate.”
Classes are every Tuesday and Friday morning. Contact the Centre if you are interested in volunteering.
Words: Michael McDermott
Photos: Killian Broderick