One of the highlights of my week is working with the children of asylum seekers at a direct provision centre. I won’t name it – not because of the bad press that so often surrounds direct provision – but to protect the anonymity of families and staff.
In fact, while the system of direct provision comes in for huge and understandable criticism – residents can’t work and can be stuck there for years waiting to know if they’re allowed to stay in Ireland – the staff I work with are wonderful: caring, compassionate people doing their best within a very troubled, inadequate system.
And the children? Pure brilliant. For the last ten weeks we’ve been working together writing a book, ‘My Handbook of Heroes’. They’ve imagined themselves as superheroes with powers such as super-speed, super-camouflage and super-ability to shut people up. They’ve had adventures on the page: saving cats, defeating Hitlers, zapping aliens. They’ve started super-schools and written menus for super-meals. They’ve described real-life heroes: people they know and admire. And they’ve written about how they’ll be superheroes when they grow up – doctors, nurses, scientists, teachers.
Never mind growing up, they’re my superheroes right now. Super-kind, super-fun, super-loving. Super-tolerant as they live and learn together, and super-brave in the face of huge practical, financial and social challenges.