The Ballaghaderreen Community Games group has recently been recognised both nationally and internationally for its inclusiveness and integration of Syrian refugees living in the town.
The group was shortlisted for the European Union’s Be-Inclusive award and also claimed the ‘Outstanding Achievement’ award, Best Area in Connacht, and Best Overall National Area awards at the National Youth Volunteer and Area Awards in Co. Cavan last Saturday.
Area Secretary, Declan Regan, was understandably proud of the group’s efforts.
“We were among nine out of 111 projects shortlisted for the European Be-Inclusive Sports Award. It was adjudicated on the basis of our integration of Syrian children over the past two years,” he said.
The voluntary group had initially introduced the children to local athletics events in keeping with the spirit of the Community Games. At first, some of them competed in their bare feet and struggled with the idea of running competitively against other children. Thanks to the guidance of patient volunteers, however, they soon began to enjoy the sports.
“We had 15 children in the county finals and then we had three relay teams with a high number of Syrian children involved at the national finals where there were 4,000 children competing,” Declan added.
Ballaghaderreen volunteers were also taken aback at how proficient some of the Syrian children were at events such as table tennis and art.
“We stumbled upon the fact that a lot of the boys were quite proficient at table tennis and it turned out that they had learned to play at refugee camps in Greece. They were runners-up in Connacht which was an extraordinary achievement.
“There were also children who qualified for national finals in art and model making and one boy who went on to win a bronze medal in U-16s Model Making”.
Declan paid tribute to local Community Games volunteers and Ballaghaderreen EROC resident Omar Jaffar in particular.
“Omar, who is a refugee himself, spoke at the awards ceremony in Brussels about the welcome they had received in Ballaghaderreen. He recently won a national youth volunteer award for his work in translating and organising events with us”.
The Ballaghaderreen committee had won the National Area Award 20 years ago and Declan was happy to report that two of the volunteers from that year were still actively involved with the group, Freda Waldron and Bríd Duffy.
“The awards are a lovely acknowledgement but our goal remains, and that is to include all of the children in Ballaghaderreen and to introduce them to sport. There are many famous sports people in the town who first started with Ballaghaderreen Community Games,” Declan concluded.