Pupils from Holy Child and Lisnagelvin Primary School have displayed handcrafted patchwork quilts to celebrate a recent trip to America and 25 years of cross-community relations between the schools.
The quilts were the culmination of a 12-week joint schools’ art project to celebrate the Buffalo Summer Relief Programme. The Buffalo Programme a cross community initiative, organised and funded by American couple Jack and Maureen Fecio, has seen more than a hundred pupils from both schools travel to America over the years to forge new friendships, experience a different culture and get away from the Troubles.
Principal of Holy Child PS Miss Orla McDonnell explained: “The Buffalo Summer Relief Programme began more than 30 years ago at a time when the Troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height. It originally started in Belfast but was brought to Derry by Mr Billy McIlwaine when he joined the Model Primary School. After Mr McIlwaine became principal of Lisnagelvin in the mid-80s the link between Lisnagelvin and Holy Child was established and the Programme has gone from strength to strength.
“Since then every second year, up to 20 children from each school have travelled to Buffalo, New York State, accompanied by a chaperone to spend up to six weeks living with host families and July 2010 was the most recent visit. It was a great experience for the children. They had a fantastic time and opportunities such as this don’t come along every day!”
Such was the success of the most recent trip that both Miss McDonnell and Principal Colin Torrens from Lisnagelvin PS decided to introduce a project that the children could work on in term time. The project was designed and completed by the students with the help of local arts facilitator Emma Logue and overseen by primary seven teachers Miss Leanne Donaghey and Miss Claire Smith.
“The project was essentially about encouraging the children to celebrate common interests and differences through art,” explained facilitator Emma. “The children worked over 12 weeks and spent six weeks in each school. They made two quilts, one for each school and a special piece to send to Maureen and Jack Fecio to thank them for the trip. Each quilt has the school crest in the middle and each pupil produced a patch for each quilt with different art material. The patch reflected what they had learned on the trip, their favourite things and the new friends they made.”
For some of the pupils the trip was their first time on a plane let alone abroad and despite the long distance and time away from home they thoroughly enjoyed it.
“It was my first time on a plane and abroad,” explained 11 years-old Chloe Williams, Holy Child PS. “I was nervous but I loved it. My host family were really lovely and everyone met up to go on group trips like Niagara Falls. It was amazing. I made new friends and I learned a lot.” Bradley Charters (11), Lisnagelvin PS, said it was fun learning about another culture. “We visited lots of lakes and mountains which I enjoyed and the architecture in America is different too. They have different types of buildings and they are a lot bigger like the Statute of Liberty.” One of the highlights of the trip for 11 years-old Shelby Abbot, Lisnagelvin PS was staying with a host family. Not to mention the different flavours of ice cream on offer. “There were six children in my family and three of them were girls around my age. I really enjoyed it I didn’t really get homesick once, it was nice having sisters for a change. The food was different as well there were loads of different kinds of ice cream that you wouldn’t get at home like cherry and coke.”
Primary seven teacher Claire Smith, Lisnagelvin PS, said the project has given the young people a great sense of achievement.
“The project has been great for them. They get to do art which is a subject they really enjoy and achieve something through team work. It has also been great to build up the relationship and friendships they have formed with another school and they have really enjoyed meeting up with their friends every week.”
As for the finished product both quilts will take pride of place in their respective schools and both principals hope that the links between the schools will continue to flourish in the future.
“The quilts are beautiful and they will now take pride of place in each school,” explained Miss McDonnell. “They are the culmination of 12 weeks hard, yet thoroughly enjoyable collaborative work. The children loved getting to visit another school, create a piece of art, and share their experiences of the trip. Mr Torrens and I are committed to strengthening the links between our schools. As our pupils have for so many years shared this wonderful summertime experience, it makes perfect sense to allow the children to develop their relationships whilst at home too. We fully intend to carry out joint projects in future years.”