Oakgrove Integrated Primary School and Nursery hosted a special Communities in Dialogue Citizens Panel last week.

As part of the event young people from newcomer and minority ethnic backgrounds shared their experiences of life in Derry.

The school held the event with the support of the Open Society Foundations, Integrated Education Fund and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education.

As part of the event, discussion workshops were held on issues surrounding racism and the challenges faced by ethnic minorities.

The day also included a Chinese tea and Origami workshop and panel discussion with local representatives.

Making up the panel were Sue Divin from Derry City and Strabane District Council, Mark Heathers of the PSNI, Alderman David Ramsey from the DUP, Sinn Fein Karen Mullan, Nikki Yau from the Migrant Centre and Gareth Cross from the Derry News.

The panel was chaired by former Oakgrove Principal Anne Murray and featured questions from pupils and guests at the event.

Current Oakgrove Principal Ashley Donaghey delivered the opening address at the event.

Mrs Donaghey noted that between July 2016 and June 2017 there had been 1,062 racist incidents reported to the PSNI across Northern Ireland.

She said that 'so many more' had gone unreported and that only 17 of these incidents resulted in prosecutions.

Mrs Donaghey revealed that she was shocked that there were 938 traditional religious sectarianism incidents in the same period in the North.

She told the audience that Oakgrove had been on a '26 year journey to promote integration and equality' and that every child brought their own uniqueness to the school.

Mrs Donaghey said that integrated education was much more than just putting children from different backgrounds together, it was about 'educating pupils in respecting differences' and understanding different ways of thinking and perspectives.

She said that Oakgrove had attempted to do these things by celebrating different cultural events from Eid [a Muslim holiday celebrated worldwide] to St Patrick's Day and by using common interests like sport.

Mrs Donaghey told the audience that the school didn't shy away from contentious issues and instead tried to use them as teaching moments to foster tolerance and respect.

Majority are brilliant

Pupils from Oakgrove Primary School and College shared their experiences of coming from different backgrounds.

11-year-old Lena Jin shared her experience of coming from a Chinese family and living in Derry.

She said that everybody treats her the same and that although she speaks English at school but Chinese at home and that her mum teaches Mandarin at Oakgrove at the weekend.

Lena said that her life was 'awesome' and that the 'majority of people in Derry are brilliant'.

She told the audience that she had 'heard mean things inside and outside school' and that she feels hurt when this happens.

Lena said that she visits China for two months every year and that although she likes seeing her family there are too many mosquitos.

She said that she and her older sister think of themselves as a 'perfect combination of Chinese, English and Irish' and that she is very happy in Derry.

Learning English

P7 pupil Urte Liepyte was born in Lithuania and moved to Northern Ireland in 2011.

She said that when she started Oakgrove she only knew how to say 'Hello' and 'Goodbye' but quickly learned English through tutoring and talking with her friends.

Urte said that she was happy in Derry and considers it to be her home as she's lived here most of her life.

She said that at Oakgrove everyone is treated equally.

Tyler Joseph is a year 8 student at Oakgrove Integrated College and describes himself as coming from a mixed race background.

He said he wanted to speak at the event in order to help other people and let people know what it feels like to be judged by the colour of your skin.

Tyler said that in the past he had been racially abused by strangers in the street but had learned to control his temper in such situations.

He said that he is a keen footballer and recently played for Swansea City's Academy.

Tyler told the audience that he had also experienced racial abuse on the football field.

He said that when he's racially abused he now tells the referee and at the end of every game his team give the opposition 'Say No to Racism' armbands.

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