Kristen Kearney, CEO of ESC, introduced the film as having come from a desire for Northern Ireland to be a home for everyone. ESC’s mission was to give an opportunity to people to get their stories across – stories about diversity, home and belonging.
We watched 5 people’s stories – all uniquely told in a friends-over-a-cup-of-coffee way, all highlighting different experiences of moving to Northern Ireland and making it home.
Mohammed from Palestine, who works as a nurse in Belfast, was first. “I can’t wait to get back to Belfast when I am away. I check the Belfast Telegraph to stay in touch.” Despite having been attacked several times, he says he’s come across “a lot of nice people” who are generous and hospitable – “people who make me feel welcome.”
We then heard from Viktorija, originally from Latvia who was “roasting” upon arrival in Belfast. Her first impression? “Everyone was so nice.” She’s been here for over 10 years – but didn’t go to the doctor for the first five, because she didn’t know she could, despite experiencing panic attacks and nightmares from a difficult past. “I don’t think there should be borders”, she says. “People just want to live.”
Edyta, a mother of two from Poland, was next. “Belfast is 100% my home. What makes it home is people.” She eloquently explains the concept of stereotypes, talking about the media’s influence and how, at the end of day, everyone is an individual made of “lots of ingredients”. Does she miss Poland? Of course. But – “our life here is more full and more beautiful than our life in Poland.”
We then watched Arnau, from Barcelona, tell his story. “I can’t cope with the Barcelona weather – it’s too hot for me. I am happier here.” Arnau says he belongs in Belfast, and thinks he will stay. “My dream of meeting people from other futures has been fulfilled in Belfast. I do Spanish Lessing because I wanted to give something back. I went to free English lessons when I arrived.” A theme emerges – all of the participants we watched give freely of their time to help others, build community and improve conditions in their neighbourhoods.
The last story is Pang’s, from Hong Kong, who says she’s a “curious person”…part of why she came to Belfast, along with a desire for further education. She’s been here for over 20 years, and is very active in bringing different communities together. There’s a twinkle in her eye. “If there was only one type of flower in the garden it would be boring. Many types make it beautiful – different smells, different colours.”
Following the screening, the audience were invited to put questions to the panel which included Pang, Arnau and Mohammed. When asked if he had noticed a chance in how welcoming the Northern Irish people are of ‘the other’, he said this: “the main thing is about moving forward and shaping the future so that it’s good for everyone living here.” Pang added, “if your heart is open it will be ok. Let it go. If you trust others, they will trust you.” Summing up his role in this project as being a ‘bridge’, Arnau poignantly concludes, “as a group we can do more than we can on our own.”