Cecilia and I got married in 2007 and we decided to move to Ireland. Ireland was a compromise, a ‘neutral place’ for both of us as we come from two quite different backgrounds. Cecilia, my wife, is from Sierra Leone. My name is Wojciech and from my name, you can gather that I am from Poland.
When we arrived here, it was a time of change for Ireland in that the country was experiencing a transformation into slowly becoming a multicultural society. People were arriving from many other countries, settling down to work and to live here long‑term. It was a good time when the economy was doing well. Everybody was needed as there were quite a few job opportunities for everyone.
A signal of this welcome change was the appointment of Mr Conor Lenihan, T.D., as the first the Minister for Integration, whom we met on several occasions. President Michael D. Higgins has also been actively engaged in integration events. Our young family had the privilege of meeting the President during a Solidarity Prayer event in Dublin Castle when the Ebola pandemic was consuming the lives of people in West Africa.
Despite cultural differences, the very changeable Irish weather and different ways of doing things, we settled quickly becoming busy with work and activities, and making many good friends. Soon, God blessed us with children. Becoming a family, brought with it a significant change in our life, requiring greater levels of responsibility and business. It also brought increased satisfaction and happiness. It was for us an extraordinary experience to become parents in a new place far away from our families and their usual support network.
When we look back now after 15 years, it seems like a miracle working and raising 4 children alone by ourselves, without grandparents, uncles, aunties, or cousins close by. Relatives who remained thousands of kilometres away were connected only occasionally by long‑distance phone calls or even rarer visits. Looking back, we realise that we worked very hard. We were happy that our family was growing up well and the fact that we managed to raise our children just by ourselves without family help, nannies or au pairs. It has given us deep satisfaction. Our children’s good school results and the praise which they get at school is our great reward.
Our integration process in Ireland overall has been positive, but it had its own difficulties. One example is the housing situation. Only after 15 years of hard work in Ireland and renting in many places, we were able to secure a permanent house and home for our children. It is sad that this country, which is rated as one of richest in the world, has no proper housing policy for families. It is easier to build a house for yourself in Sierra Leone or in Poland than in rich Ireland.
Of course, we have had many a good experience.
We are actively involved in our parish in Rathmines, working with the Salesians, engaging with voluntary organisations such as the Irish Cancer Society, the Peace Corps Localise, the Sierra Leone‑Ireland Partnership (SLIP) and others. Our children, all of whom were born in Dublin, always treat and regard Ireland as their first home. There is always an uneasy feeling when we hear the teachers say “so the kids went home…” We politely tell them that our children went to visit family in Poland or Sierra Leone but that Ireland is their home. I do this each time saying “No, even though they have three passports (Irish, Polish and Sierra Leonean) their home is in Ireland they just went to see their families abroad.”
I understand it takes time for the local people to understand and accept that times have changed. It is not the case anymore that only Irish people go abroad. Many, many others have come and settled here making this new Ireland their new home. Adults still need to learn about this integration and mutual acceptance. Children of different backgrounds get over these differences easily. They all go to school together, play in the same sports’ clubs and meet in the same playgrounds. They have all similar problems when they grow up. This is their own new Ireland.
We are happy as a family that we can live here and contribute to the local community through work and voluntary engagement. We draw our strength from the People of God – the Church – which is the same in Ireland, Sierra Leone and Poland. The Church is the ideal community for all nations to meet and practice the Christian life of service, love and charity. In this way, we can make God’s Kingdom a reality.