Ireland Communities and society, Education and children's services

Clare Library Service’s ‘Connections’ project: Chambers Ireland 2020 Best Library Service award winner

Clare County Library was awarded the Chambers Ireland 2020 Excellence in Local Government Award for Best Library Service for the project, Connections: Stories by Syrian Families in County Clare.

Connections is a compilation of written and illustrated stories in which the authors – children and adults – recall real places and experiences and imagine a bright future in Ireland and, in particular, in County Clare. The publication is primarily the result of a literacy project shared by children of Ennistymon National School, Scoil Mhainchín, with their parents and siblings.

The objectives of this library initiative in the Right to Read programme was to give space for each parent and child to connect and have fun together as a group as well as improving the participants’ oral literacy and writing in English. Right to Read is a national programme to promote literacy and reading development for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The project began with an invitation to Syrian families (who had come to Ireland through the United Nations resettlement programme) to use their local library and to offer them a special project where they could share their stories and work as a group.

The workshops were facilitated at Ennistymon Library by visiting author, Debbie Thomas. Illustration workshops were led by illustrator, Tatyana Feeney. Parents and older siblings joined the children from Scoil Mhainchín for a series of weekly workshops.

Under the expert guidance of Debbie and Tatyana, both of whom have successfully published and illustrated children’s books with Irish publishers, and with assistance from Poetry Ireland, iBbY Ireland and Creative Ireland, the project was initiated and managed by Clare County Library.

The weekly workshops gave these new Irish citizens space to tell their stories and preserve their writing at this time of transition by gathering and publishing them in a unique publication.

An obvious passion for telling stories shown by the children was appreciated and recognized as a learning and literacy opportunity that was worthy of further development involving whole families.

To quote workshop facilitator and author Debbie Thomas, the workshop experience “was like dropping in on a lively and loving family. The friendship and laughter among the eleven children, mothers and sisters reflected the strong community born on their arrival in Ennistymon as part of the United Nations Resettlement Scheme.”

Connections is a compilation of written and illustrated stories in which the authors, children and adults, recall real places and experiences and imagine a bright future in Ireland and in particular in County Clare. The participants’ stories are enhanced by their own pictures co-ordinated by resident illustrator Tatyana Feeney.

Speaking about the award, the Mayor of Clare, Cllr Mary Howard, said: “The Connections project has been a hugely positive one, that demonstrates the power of storytelling and writing in linking two very diverse cultures. I congratulate the Library Service, the project organisers and participants, and the children and adults who shared their stories.”

Pat Dowling, Chief Executive, Clare County Council, said: “I would like to add my congratulations to everyone involved in achieving this notable award. Projects such as this enable members of the community in County Clare to share their experiences and greatly enrich the cultural and social life of the community. It is wonderful to see such a worthy project being recognised at a national level.”

Clare County Librarian, Helen Walsh, said: “Initiatives like this give a voice to people who have suffered greatly in their home countries and allow them the time and space to heal and reflect on what is gone. The initial involvement of the children resulted in the parents being involved also and it was great to see such a positive project gain the award for the library service.”

Familiarity with the library was an important objective of the project from the library staff’s point of view. Getting to know staff and becoming increasingly familiar with the wide range of print and digital resources, along with reading-related and cultural events on offer through the service, has resulted in increased engagement among Syrian families with the library service in Ennistymon Co. Clare.

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