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an evening with the Syrian Community in Portstewart

On Thursday 17th March several of our parishioners were joined by members of the Syrian community who have settled in Portstewart, having fled a brutal conflict in their home country. These families have settled as part of the UK Vulnerable Persons Scheme.

The idea developed through an opportunity to apply for funds from the Dean of Belfast Cathedral’s Black Santa Appeal. The parish was successful in their application and thanks to one of our parishioners Nigel Handforth and our Rector the idea was driven forward.

All in a Stew Night (17th March 2022)

1) The families, along with their friends and family from as far away as Belfast, had obviously put in a lot of very hard work over several days to produce a sumptuous banquet. We were amazed when platters and trays of beautifully presented food poured through the doors along with our guests.

All in a Stew Night (17th March 2022)

2) As well as hot food there were beautiful salads which were very appealing to look at never mind eat! There were fabulous sauces and dressings to accompany the food. Then to follow a lovely selection of sweet treats, handmade chocolates and cardamom coffee.

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3) We explained that funds were available to reimburse the families for costs incurred but they would not accept anything at all. I’m sure I can speak for all of the parishioners who attended and say that we were overwhelmed by the generosity shown.

Aii in a Stew Night (17th March 2022)

4) Our contribution to the evening had an Irish theme. The hall was decorated with balloons, shamrocks, including a little shamrock table decoration and a lovely Irish Stew followed by apple tart and custard.

All in a Stew Night (17th March 2022)

5) Our Syrian friends were welcomed by Revd Malcolm who looked very fetching in his leprechaun hat and ginger beard. He blessed the food with a short prayer which was appreciated by our Muslim friends. After an explanation of the significance of the shamrock to Irish Christians we tucked into the lovely food.

All in a Stew Night (17th March 2022)
All in a Stew Night (17th March 2022)

6) This certainly was a family occasion, as the evening progressed mums & dads, children of all ages and grandparents mixed and chatted with Agherton parishioners as the small children chased each other around, including hiding under the tables, as babies were bounced on knees.

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7) When we had all eaten our fill, the task of clearing up was completed by everyone including the Syrians teenagers. In my experience teenagers have a habit of suddenly disappearing on urgent business when washing dishes and tidying up are mentioned! The evening was a great success, and we hope that, perhaps, we might have the opportunity to organise another event in the future.

All in a Stew Night (17th March 2022)

8) Another important aspect to this project is providing an opportunity for some of the Syrian folk to gain a qualification in Food Safety and Hygiene. This has already started and with the aid of a local translator, a few of us are guiding those interested through the different modules. This will ultimately lead to a Level 2 qualification for retail businesses and could enhance opportunities for employment. Alicean Handforth

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