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Santa visits Mayo refugees


Principal of Kinaffe NS, Margaret Reilly and Santa with the children who greeted Santa as he arrived at the International Protection Centre in Breaffy. Pic: Alison Laredo

American benefactors fund Christmas party for refugees

Michael Gallagher

The Christmas spirit was very evident on Wednesday last in Breaffy when Santa came to meet some children spending their first Christmas in Ireland. The main man was safely delivered to the Refugee Centre at Breaffy Woods Arena by members of the Mayo Fire Service, who were on hand to ensure the special operation ran perfectly.
The event was organised to brighten the festive season for pupils of Kinaffe National School, who are currently resident at the Refugee Centre at the hotel, and it proved to be a huge success.
Kinaffe NS, currently has a large international student body, with more than 30 children from all corners of the world attending the rural school near Swinford, and while Wednesday’s celebration was fun-filled, there was also a deeper message.
“This is what Christmas should be about – making people happy and reaching out to one another,” school principal Margaret Reilly, told The Mayo News. “This is their first Christmas away from home for all of these children and I can only imagine how tough that is. We wanted to show our children how special they are and with the help of our friends at home and abroad we organised this event.
“Yesterday, we had a little pageant in the school and one of the children said the story of Mary and Joseph looking for somewhere to live in Bethlehem was just like them. ‘We have somewhere to stay, but no home,’ she said, and it stopped me in my tracks,” Mrs Reilly explained.
There was great excitement when Santa arrived in a fire engine with lights flashing and sirens sounding. The special guest then danced and sang with the children before delivering presents specifically suited to each child.

Great American friends
“This was made possible by a great group of friends and family in America who have supported us since June when they decided to help the Ukrainian children and their families who had enrolled in our school at that time.
“Since then we have been joined by children from Zimbabwe, The Congo, South Africa, Algeria and other countries and our friends in Boston, Cohasset and Chicago have been utterly amazing. They have made donations of money to the school to buy clothing, tracksuits, and school equipment for the children. This has helped us put horse riding and swimming lessons in place and this has helped reduce the trauma that children were carrying and experiencing. 
“Their efforts have made a huge difference in these children’s lives and have brought immense joy and happiness in a very sad situation. We have invested in new books and support teachers including a Ukrainian teacher to help make the school even more inclusive.
“Our American friends were determined that the children would have a special Christmas too and helped Santa fund the presents he handed out today. We couldn’t have done it without them and by everyone working together we have brought some joy to a testing time for everyone,” Mrs Reilly concluded.
The founders of the support programme for Kinaffe NS are John Durkin in Boston, Dan Durkin in Chicago, Hank Kucinski in Cohasset, Philip Mahoney in Boston, Tom Norton in Cohasset, Kristen Walker in Cohasset and Megan Whoriskey in Cohasset.