Home truths on racism as pupils tell it like it is

From left, Raissa Guinanao, Khagaraja Mettu and Fidha Seif Huq from'Portadown Integrated Primary School with Paulius Povilaitis of Brownlow Integrated College. INPT49-015
From left, Raissa Guinanao, Khagaraja Mettu and Fidha Seif Huq from'Portadown Integrated Primary School with Paulius Povilaitis of Brownlow Integrated College. INPT49-015

Solemnly but clearly, 11-year-old Khagaraja tells the audience at Portadown Integrated PS (PIPS) about his new life since coming to Portadown in August.

He misses his best friend in India - the pair used to climb the mango tree together in school- but he doesn’t miss the blackboard of work he had to do every day.

He hasn’t yet made friends where he lives now and he was sad when some boys in High Street Mall called him ‘Indian Monkey’.

It was all related in the matter-of-fact way that children have but it had a sobering affect on the diverse gathering of pupils and parents of various nationalities and community and charity representatives attending the ‘Communities in Dialogue Day’.

The day was hosted by the school, with support from the Integrated Education Fund and the Open Society Foundation, to discuss ways of supporting newcomer and ethnic minority families in an increasingly diverse Northern Ireland.

Two other students from PIPS - Fidha, who is also originally from India and has made “lots of friends” since moving here four years ago, and Raissa from the Philippines - along with Brownlow Integrated College pupil Paulius, also gave thought-provoking and moving presentations on their experiences of settling into life in the area – both positive and negative.

There was a strong feeling among participants of all backgrounds that there is a need for more support for newcomers to develop English language skills, which would help them engage with the wider community and secure employment.

There was also widespread recognition of the important role the community can play in making newcomers feel included and welcome.

Feargal Magee, principal of PIPS, said the school, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has pupils from a wide range of different countries.