Saoirse Ethnic Hands on Deck Co-Operative

The Saoirse Programme

The Saoirse Programme has been supported by the Cork Local Enterprise Office to empower migrant women living in Direct Provision. During the lockdown, the Cork Migrant Centre Coffee Morning group started to make facemasks to keep people in Direct Provision safe.

This project has flourished into a social enterprise, which will see these women bring their design talents and skills to market with a range of products.

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Mother Tongue Project

Tell us about your project or initiative: why was it created?

The mother tongue project developed organically from a weekly Friday Women Coffee Morning group at the Cork Migrant Centre, Nano Nagle Place, Cork. The group started as a mental health intervention to address the identified psychosocial vulnerabilities by this group of living in Direct Provision Centres (DP) in Cork such as social isolation, high levels of stress, lack of sufficient knowledge around available resources, lack of orientation or support in adapting to new social cultural contexts in Ireland etc. During the COVID19 lockdown, DPs like the rest of the country were confronted with PPE shortages. 22 seamstresses among the CMC Coffee morning group living across 6 DPs were facilitated by a consortium of Migrant Interests Groups in Cork and the public through a GoFundMe campaign to launch the Sanctuary Mask Initiative (SMI). In just over 4 weeks, they produced 9000 high quality face masks for all DP residents in Cork and other vulnerable groups in the community. There was a high market demand for the masks and to take their products to the market, the group transited to a social enterprise. The Saoirse Project expands on the SMI in the context of three UN Sustainable Development Goals: 3. Good Health and Wellbeing. 5. Gender Equality. And 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth.

How exactly does your project/initiative work?

Saoirse project is empowering migrant women teaching the new skills, mainly textile based, and facilitating entrepreneurship. It is a registered Social Enterprise project by migrant women living in Direct Provision Centres in Cork and in the Cork Environs and run exclusively by women themselves with the support of Nano Nagle Place Cork. Currently the group is engaged in ‘The Mother Tongue’ Project, funded by the Local Enterprise Office, Cork City and County.
Mother Tongue is a celebration of migrant women, with the aim of promoting inter-cultural understanding, social inclusion and sustainable livelihoods through creativity, collaboration, textiles, and conversations. A platform created by social enterprise Saoirse, the project uses multilingualism as a force for cultural diversity and creativity, acknowledging the vital role of the mother in the community. Mother Tongues are a combination of saying and wisdom that mothers have shared for generations with their children. The project facilitates the intergenerational transfer of wisdom and knowledge, which form the basis of our identity. Mother Tongue celebrates cultural particularities while always maintaining our belief that mothers and women have a connection which unites them across all boundaries, both physical and imagined.
In 2021, the women had 3 different workshops facilitated by a renowned artist Deirdre Breen. where they talked about cultural differences and what they remembered the most about what their mother used to say or still stays. The artist and the mothers will then co-create a public mural at Nano Nagle Place, where the women meet, comprised of the generated mother tongue statements. A collection of Mother Tongue mural themed graphic designs has been customised and will be screen printed onto Tote bag that the Saoirse Seamstresses are making. Four statements in four different languages were selected by the group to go onto the tote-bags.

What difference is your project/initiative/work making or wanting to make on the people involved?

The project is responding and addressing self-identification needs that the women living in Direct Provision (DP) centres face being in a different country. Working in traditional roles for mothers with small babies and toddlers is challenging and our project addresses this barrier by providing a way for the mothers to work from homes (DP) by engaging in a viable enterprise.
It ticks a lot of boxes in that it provides an income for the women while addressing mental health challenges associated with dis-empowerment, public perceptions of being viewed as takers with nothing to contribute to the community, social isolation etc. There is improved sense of agency among the women engaged in our project, grown confidence and definitely the group has visibility in Cork which has helped in attracting resources, such at the LEO funding supporting the current project, mass media attention as it was featured in Irish Examiner and has a growing social media presence. Cork Chamber of Commerce has also provided the group with free membership which avails opportunities provided by the organization. This has helped in increasing and increased social and structural networks. At an individual and collective level, there is huge growth in hard and soft skills. The fact that the migrant women are managing and driving the social enterprise is a great testament to this. Ultimately it is aiding integration into the community including the business community.

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