Belfast Telegraph

A little eastern magic helps light up city communities

by Fiona Rutherford

Short Strand community centre was shimmering with lights and Indian decorations as five interface communities joined their Indian neighbours to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.

The five day festival is held in honour of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity and incorporates the Hindu new year.

Residents from the Short Strand, Lower Newtownards Road, Lower Ravenhill Road, Lower Castlereagh Road and Lower Woodstock Road areas sampled traditional Diwali food and tried Indian dancing.

As part of the project, children from the five areas took part in workshops organised through the Lower Crescent Arts Centre’s Community Outreach Service, learning about Diwali, including the story of Prince Rama and his wife Sita, traditional dances and making masks for the Festival of Lights.

Eileen Mellon, from the Housing Executive’s Community Cohesion Unit, which runs the programme with Peace III funding with the support of Belfast City Council’s Good Relations unit, said: “The aim of the Inner East Local Area Network Programme is to develop positive relations at a local level, regardless of religion or ethnic background, as well as securing shared city space. This project has done just that on every level. Not only has it built upon the positive relationships that already existed between the five communities but I believe it will also go a long way in making residents from different ethnic backgrounds realise that they too are an integral part of the Inner East Belfast community.

“I hope that this is the first of many such projects in east Belfast.”

Bernie McConnell, from the Short Strand Community Forum, added: “I’m delighted with the success of the project. We have done something similar in previous years in Short Strand on a smaller scale but because the other four communities have joined in the festivities this year, the project has turned into something special.

“I have to say the enthusiasm of the children was second to none — they all mixed really well and seemed to enjoy the whole experience.” She thanked organiser Agnes McKinley and everyone involved and added: “Hopefully it can become an annual event.”

Indumathi Kandur was there with her son Rajaram. “I really appreciate people taking this forward step to mitigate cultural differences and making us feel that we are not very far from our motherland.”

Subarna Basu, who prepared the food, said: “I am really grateful to the organisers for inviting me to take an active part in this event and I pray to God that there be light in their lives and our society in general for many years to come.”

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