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Connacht Tribune

Confirmation donations help build primary school – in Tanzania



An African school owes its development to a visionary Galway nun, her brother-in-law school principal, and ten years of East Galway primary pupils who have given a slice of their Confirmation money to a great cause.

There’s a school in a remote village just over an hour south of the largest city in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, which is home to 3,000 pupils – and it’s all thanks to the seed capital provided by a Confirmation class on the Galway/Roscommon border!

That was back in 2007 when the pupils of Creagh NS decided to put some of their Confirmation money towards a good cause – and coupled with funds from sponsored walk, they raised an impressive €7,000 for their chosen project.

But this was also a family affair – because the instigator for the fundraising drive was former Creagh National School Vice-Principal Johnny Johnston, and his interest was stirred by his sister-in-law, Sr Annette Farrell, who had written to the pupils to tell them of her plight.

The Holy Union Sister and native of Kilconnell is over 30 years working in Tanzania, where she is a well-respected leading light – particularly in education – in that country’s former capital, Dar Es Salaam.

Sr Annette and Johnny Johnston came up with the Confirmation Project, where each year Sr Annette would write and tell the Confirmation class of a project she knew of that needed funding.

Back in 2007, Sr. Annette wrote and told the pupils about a remote village called Saku, where the children had to walk an hour to get to the closest school.

That same summer, Johnny Johnston, accompanied by his sons Barry and Conor, travelled to Tanzania to see what was needed for themselves – and thus the seeds for the school were sown.

Ten years ago, Éilis Treacy was the Sixth Class teacher in Creagh NS and, just as the pupils were infused with enthusiasm for this project, so too was their teacher.

Ten years on, Éilis is Principal of Eyrecourt NS – and now her students send a portion of their Confirmation money to Sr Annette too.

“While I taught in Creagh school we built the first classrooms of Saku and Churwi primary schools. We also supported the COBET project in building extra facilities.

“When I became teaching principal in Eyrecourt NS, I brought this idea with me and while we only have Confirmation every two years in our school with  less pupils, the children still pledge a portion of their gift money and take great pleasure in the photographs and letters Sr Annette sends them outlining the project the money supports,” she says.

Éilis is just back after another volunteering stint with the Holy Union Sisters in Dar Es Salaam, having also spent time there last year to help out and see the work that has been done, thanks in part to the generosity of these young Galway students.

“Each year before the Sixth Class made their Confirmation, Sr. Annette would write and tell them of a project that needed funding,” says Éilis.

“Sometimes it was a well for a village, the first ever project was tools for an apprentice and often the project was something to do with a school.

“This time, she asked the pupils for their help to build the school. She had started schools before with the assistance of the Creagh and Attyrory pupils.

“Then when these schools are up and running, the government take them over and fund them from then on,” she adds.

Éilis shot a video to show the students and supporters the impact their donations have made – as well as offering an insight into daily life at a bustling school.

Even with a large campus, a student body of 3,000 means that not all pupils have a classroom; the pre-schoolers learn outside while their teacher corrects their work under the shade of a tree.

The exam class too has school desks in the open air, shaded under a corpse of trees as the pupils study for their big test.

Éilis describes Sr Annette as an inspiration – and clearly the Kilconnell nun who who is now the Director of Holy Union Sisters Debrabant High School in Mbagala is a woman of influence in the country she has adopted as home.

She first arrived in Tanzania in September 1983 and she has been to the forefront of education development there ever since.

“There was a Bishop in Moshi Diocese who was interested in education so he applied to our congregation in Ireland for sisters who could come and help improve the standard of education in catholic schools,” she explained recent to a local newspaper, the Citizen.

“So I started working at some of the diocese institutions, which later came to be among the best performing schools in the country,” she adds.

For all of her time away from home she clearly hasn’t forgotten her roots; Sr Annette photographed for the paper wearing a tee-shirt from Galway!

Assisted by Éilis Treacy in August 2016, she was the local driving force behind Africa Code Week, with the help of the Galway Education Centre’s Brendan Smith, Bernard Kirk and Nuala Dalton, who spent the first week of June in Dar Es Salaam where Sr Annette’s secondary school hosted two days of ‘train the trainer’ sessions.

Sr Annette set up the COBET Street Children Project computer room, as part of a three-year accelerated primary school programme for teenagers and children who have never accessed school.

“She decided to install electricity and purchase 20 computers to give these children an extra chance for when they integrate into the government school for Form 4,” explained Éilis.

“This computer room opened in July 2016 and I worked with Rodney – the computer teacher employed by the Holy Union Sisters – to set up a programme teaching basic computer skills to the pupils.

“Many of these pupils – who were all between eight and 16 – had never touched a computer, TV or any type of electronic device,” she added.

And that is the sort of lateral thinking that has earned her such widespread respect, prompting the Citizen to ask her for her views on the future of education it that country.

“The country’s education sector is growing in quantity but not universally improving in quality. This is due to the fact that there are a lot of students but not sufficient planning and investment,” she says.

“For example, you have one teacher doing the work of three. This is not uncommon, go to any school and you will see for yourself. We were hoping that schools would get more teachers, but that is not the case,” she adds.

Sr Annette is particularly critical of the ‘one size fits all’ approach to education; she favours a version of the Irish system of Higher and Ordinary Level so that pupils can achieve their respective potential.

“We have children who have no ability in mathematics and no interest are forced to do the same exam like their counterparts brilliant in the subject. It’s like every child who gets into secondary school is preparing to go to the university,” she explains.

“This one programme could perhaps only suit about ten per cent and neglects the other 90 per cent.  I ask myself, what are the curriculum planners doing in Tanzania?

“We need comparative education system with various programmes to suit different levels of abilities. But in our schools today, there is no regards to drama, arts, music, little regard for sports, and it’s all cramming,” she adds.

But whatever about the bigger picture, she has helped to ensure that thousands of pupils have the chance of education close to home, not having to walk over an hour each morning and evening.

It’s all thanks to the vision of an Irish nun, the enthusiasm of her brother-in-law and his pupils – complemented ever since by generous Confirmation classes and teachers who have all done their bit to share the gift of education across the continents.

Connacht Tribune

Galway grandmother’s added bonus as she heads for World Transplant Games



A Galway grandmother off to represent Ireland at the World Transplant Games in Australia is onto a winner before she even leaves home. Because Teresa Smyth’s trip Down Under coincides with her daughter’s pregnancy – and it gives her the chance to be close at hand for the birth of her sixth grandchild.

Teresa, from Williamstown, will take part in three events in Perth – darts, table tennis and Petanque doubles in the 60 to 69 age category – and she is doing it as a tribute to the donor who has given her 22 years of a new life.

But when the Games are over, Teresa will stay on for a month with her younest daughter Rachel who has lived in Australia for some years. Rachel is due to give birth in May – so Teresa won’t return to Ireland until towards the end of June, whereas most of the rest of the team with be returning home directly after the Games.

The widowed mother of five and grandmother of five – soon to be six – received a kidney transplant in 2001, but this will be her first time to represent Ireland at the World Transplant Games.

“I am doing this in honour of my donor and their family who have given me a wonderful 22 years of good health,” she said.

Teresa was on dialysis for two years before her transplant, and she is forever grateful to her deceased kidney donor and the 22 years of successful transplantation she has enjoyed since then.

Teresa is part of the 14 strong Transplant Team Ireland all off to the World Transplant Games in Perth next month. Ranging in age from 36 right up to 75, the ten men and four women have all received organ transplants – including two liver, two bone marrow, and ten kidney.

They will be among over 1,200 participants from over 50 countries, all embracing their gift of life and honoring their donors in this celebration of life through sport.

Each of the athletes is funding their participation in the Games – including registration, flights, accommodation, and meals – through fundraising in the name of the Irish Kidney Association/Transplant Team Ireland, as well as using their own funds.

The Irish squad gathered at the ALSAA Sports Complex at Dublin Airport on Sunday, joined by family, friends and other members of the Transplant Team Ireland programme, to receive their official team kit.

They also enjoyed an inspirational talk by former Olympian triathlete Gavin Noble, the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s Chef de Mission for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and 2023 European Games.

The Galway woman said she was simply looking forward to meeting new people, enjoying the competition and experiencing the travel – and being there to greet the latest arrival when they make their debut!

“I’m just looking forward to meeting my new grandchild and seeing all the different sports venues in Perth,” she said.

The World Transplant Games take place from April 15 to 21, following a four-year hiatus for the biennial event, as the previous Games planned for 2021 had to be cancelled due to the global pandemic.

(Photo: Transplant Team Ireland member Teresa Smyth with former Olympian triathlete Gavin Noble).

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Connacht Tribune

Local Improvement Schemes completely oversubscribed for at least two years



Community groups in County Galway who held out hope that funding would be provided to improve their local roads have been told that they cannot apply for another two years at least.

Applications under the Local Improvement Scheme (LIS) are at saturation level – so much so that Galway County Council is not accepting anymore until 2025 at the earliest.

The Local Improvement Scheme provides funding to help local authorities carry out improvement works on private and non-publicly maintained roads.

But Director of Services Derek Pender told a meeting of Galway County Council while that they have received funding to the tune of €954,000 but this has allowed them to facilitate just 21 projects for which offers have gone out.

However, he pointed out that this meant that 116 further applicants from local groups would not be considered during 2023 and this was why the Council was refusing to accept any fresh applications for the time being.

Mr Pender did say that a fund had been ring-fenced for the off-shore islands and at least one project would be carried out on each of them during the year.

The decision to refuse any further applications has infuriated the elected members of the local authority who made the argument that if local and unfunded roads were allowed to deteriorate any further, the costs would escalate.

According to Cllr Michael Connolly in Moylough, there was a multitude of schemes in the North Galway area that needed funding before they got “out of hand”.

“The funding allocated under the LIS scheme is miniscule when one considers the amount of applicants that there are and the number that want to get onto the list.

“By not taking on any new applicants is not the way to address this crisis and this decision should be reversed – even if it was to give communities some hope that their situation was being addressed,” said Cllr Connolly.

He said that rural roads were deteriorating rapidly and to get them back to any reasonable state would cost more in the long run if they were being ignored at the moment.

His colleague Cllr Martina Kinane (FF) said that the funding for LIS schemes was welcome but she urged the Council not to close applications.

“It is important for local communities to at least get on a list and maybe the extent of this list might indicate to the Department of Rural Affairs the extent of the need for additional funding,” said Cllr Kinane.

In response, Mr Pender said that they were not refusing applications but it would take until 2027 to clear the current volume of applications. He explained that this was why they were closing applications until 2025 before taking on fresh ones.

Cllr Declan Kelly (Ind) said that these were vital schemes that kept rural roads intact. He asked what the Galway Oireachtas members were doing to ensure that the county got the funding it required to clear the backlog of applicants.

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Connacht Tribune

Free parking in County Galway towns is not a runner



A proposal to grant parking permits to businesses would prove a disaster for trade in County Galway towns, it was claimed this week.

Councillor Shane Curley proposed giving a limited number of parking permits to business owners in towns and villages where paid parking exists at this month’s Loughrea Municipal District meeting.

He said business owners provide employment, pay commercial rates as well as taxes and deserved a break.

Galway County Council said it was against the proposal as it would mean less parking availability for customers spending money – and less money for the Council due to the impact on parking fees.

It would also have an impact on active travel as it may discourage people from walking or cycling to town centres if they could avail of free parking.

Cllr Joe Byrne (FG) said he was opposed to the move as one of the biggest complaints when the Council brought in free parking in December to encourage Christmas shoppers was that workers were taking parking prime spaces all day.

That was the reason that proposal change to make parking free from 11am so that commuters would park elsewhere.

Cllr Jimmy McClearn said Roscommon town had free parking and it was now very difficult to get parking on the town’s main street.

He told the meeting that it was an example of a well-intentioned proposal having unforeseen consequences.

“Do you make free parking available to all people who work in a shop? Do you have it at a particular location? If you did it, you have to not do it on the main street.”

Cllr Michael ‘Moegie’ Maher said the proposal would “absolutely choke our town”, which was one of the locations in the county currently thriving.

“There are car spaces in Loughrea – there are car parks in Barrack Street, Corry’s, businesses were against free parking before as they couldn’t get customers in.”

Engineer Gerard Haugh said there was a proposal to create another car park on the southern side of the town.

Parking fees were subject to bylaws and could not be adjusted at municipal district level, Cllr Byrne pointed out. Cllr Curley said he would submit the proposal to a full meeting of Galway County Council.

In relation to a second proposal by Cllr Curley to erect trial speed bumps at three locations in the town frequented by hundreds of school children, Mr Haugh said there was no funding available for temporary measures in advance of a traffic management plan currently being created for Loughrea.

No other councillor supported the motion.

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