Our Table Finds New Home in Ireland’s First Cathedral of Sanctuary
“The welcome of the stranger is tantamount to the authentic living of the Christian message in our community.”
Our Table, an organisation that highlights the need for change in Ireland’s Direct Provision system for asylum seekers, has a new home in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. The Our Table café was officially relaunched on Friday evening (February 16). At the same event Christ Church became the first Cathedral of Sanctuary in Ireland in recognition of its work with Our Table and initiatives to ensure refugees and asylum seekers receive a warm welcome to the city.
The Our Table café will open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when founder Ellie Kisyombe and her team of staff and volunteers will prepare and serve fantastic food as well as spark change through conversation about Direct Provision. The café officially opened to the public on Saturday morning.
Sharing food with others is one of the most human things in the world. So much of our cultures revolve around the preparation, sharing and ritual of food. However, in Direct Provision, people are denied the chance to cook and share food in the ways that matter to them. Our Table is trying to change that along with campaigning for the right to work. It started when Ellie along with other women came together to cook their favourite recipes, taste each other’s food and learn about each other’s culture.
Ellie, who arrived in Ireland from Malawi eight years ago and lived in Direct Provision, said the launch of the café meant the world to her. On Friday night she spoke of the loneliness people experience in Direct Provision and the anger she had experienced but instead of giving up hope, Ellie harnessed her emotions. “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude,” she said.
Everyone has hopes and dreams, she said, including refugees and asylum seekers. “We don’t want to kill our dreams. We do everything to carry our hope. This is reality and this is me. This is real for over 5,000 people [in Direct Provision] who have found a home in Ireland. We can’t call it home but it is home and we will call it home,” she stated.
Dean Dermot Dunne, said that the cathedral’s spirituality was balanced by its social concern. “Our Christian witness seeks to embrace the issues of our times and engage with the social problems of our wider community… It is a natural yet extraordinary departure for our community to engage with the ‘Our Table’ project. I am very pleased that we continue to engage with the Direct Provision issue and endeavor to bring the issues to an audience that would not be aware of or engaged with those who live in Direct Provision. I couldn’t think of a better way of sharing experiences than sitting down together and sharing food,” the Dean stated.
He said the cathedral community was honoured to receive the Cathedral of Sanctuary designation, which was presented by Andy Pollak of City of Sanctuary Dublin. “The welcome of the stranger is tantamount to the authentic living of the Christian message in our community. We come to learn that there is no such entity as the stranger. We are all one and nothing should separate us from that belief,” the Dean said and paid tribute to his colleague, the Revd Abigail Sines, for her drive and enthusiasm in engaging with residents in Direct Provision and creating spaces in which they could tell their stories.
The CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, Nick Henderson, also paid tribute to Ellie. “Our Table is a shining example of what people can do if they can pursue their potential,” he said. “Not all of us can achieve an Our Table but we can achieve our potential if we are given the right to work.” He added that the latest Government provision allowing asylum seekers to work was an illusion.
Friday night’s launch was attended by many friends and supporters of Our Table and Christiana, who has been an asylum seeker living in Direct Provision for over four years explained that people came to Ireland from various countries with diverse skills. They wanted to join a new society, she said, but some facets of that society did not see them as a resource that could be tapped into. “Seeking asylum is a necessity for so many. No one does it unless they have to… One of the biggest sadnesses is to be seen as unwanted. Our Table is a statement. This is us,” she stated.
During the evening IADT student Claudia Cramption performed a spoken word piece she wrote called ‘Diversity is not Dangerous’ and singer Mary Coughlan performed two songs.
Speaking after the launch, Archbishop Michael Jackson, said he was delighted with the initiatives taking place in the city. “I am delighted with both the initiative and the compassion shown with in the city of Dublin. As a city we now have a University of Sanctuary (Dublin City University) and a Cathedral of Sanctuary (Christ Church). Both are places of welcome with a strong sense of community, local and international,” he said.