Primary school GAA initiative aims to help Ukrainian pupils to integrate

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An initiative has been launched which aims to help newly arrived Ukrainian children to integrate in primary schools through sport.

llianz and Cumann na mBunscol are supporting schools across Ireland to help Ukrainian schoolchildren to participate in local Gaelic games activities, as part of Cumann na mBunscol Week.

Allianz has provided these schools with 500 footballs, 200 hurleys and 200 sliothars to help the refugee schoolchildren to fall in love with the national games.

The 26 schools which are participating in the scheme have taken in 383 Ukrainian schoolchildren in total.

One such school is St Brigid’s NS in Drumcong, Co Leitrim which has welcomed 23 Ukrainian children since the war began in February. The seven-teacher school had just over 150 pupils before the Russian invasion.

Micheál MacThiarnain teaches at St Brigid’s, and he is one of the school’s main Cumann na mBunscol organisers. He said the sport’s initiative will help the pupils to interact with each other in a way that comes naturally.

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St Oliver’s National School in Killarney, Kerry, was among twenty-six schools across the country that have joined an initiative organised between Allianz and Cumann na mBunscol, that will support Ukrainian schoolchildren participate in local Gaelic game activities through their schools. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

“It’s the universal language of children, isn’t it? Trying to get them to chat or communicate can be challenging but if you give them a ball or a hurl and a sliothar no words are needed. Sport is really what unites all kids,” he said.

St Brigid’s and the national school in nearby Drumshanbo have welcomed almost one-third of the total number of Ukrainian refugee schoolchildren in the whole of Co Leitrim.

Mr MacThiarnain said they were “lucky” to have the space to welcome so many pupils, adding: “Children need to be integrated and educated”.

The school has received 30 quick-touch O’Neill’s footballs, 10 hurleys and 10 sliothars from Allianz, which Mr MacThiarnain said has been a “huge help”.

“It’s Allianz Cumann na mBunscol Week this week. We’re hoping to get out for sports days, football blitz and hurling skill’s days as well and they love it,” he said.

“They [Ukrainian schoolchildren] can’t wait to get the hurl in their hands and they can’t believe we’re giving them a stick… It’s very encouraging to see them out and playing because kids are kids. It doesn’t matter where they’re from or what language they speak, they like to play with balls and running around and being part of something.”

Allianz Cumann na mBunscol Week started in June 2020, with a focus on supporting Gaelic games and related activities in schools when it was not possible for teams to take to the field due to the pandemic.

This year, approximately 2,000 schools are joining in local GAA activities and competitions across the country, while the Allianz Cumann na mBunscol schools’ hurling finals took place last week in Croke Park on June 7 and 8.

Religious & Education Customer Relationship Manager at Allianz Alan Black said: “Sport has always been always been such an important vehicle for integration, and GAA activities are often at the forefront of inclusion across our local communities. Therefore, Allianz, through our work with Cumann na mBunscol, are delighted to sponsor this donation of sports equipment to schools across the country. We hope it goes some way in facilitating the integration of these children into the school and wider community through participation in Gaelic Games.”

Meanwhile, Chairman of Cumann na mBunscol Joe Lyons, who has been involved in the organisation for 40 years, said the new initiative will particularly support Ukrainian schoolchildren who are based in some of the more remote parts of the country.

“If a new child comes into a school and they may be shy or a bit tentative or nervous, if you through a ball in and they start playing with other children they settle in straight away. It’s the best social way of integrating I know. It’s super,” he said.

“There are some areas that got a very big influx of Ukrainian children, I read somewhere about a school that got a 50pc increase in their enrolment, so it’s a huge opportunity to teach those children how to integrate by hitting a ball.”



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