Belfast Telegraph

Community Relations Week: Bringing Bollywood to Belfast

As Community Relations Week begins Kousalayaa Somasundran, one of the many who have come to Northern Ireland for a new life, tells Jane Hardy how dance is bringing people together

Living off the vibrant Ormeau Road, you really notice it, the new Northern Ireland. It’s multi-lingual, multi-coloured and most of the time, pretty at ease with itself.

Naturally, as our country steps into a post-Troubles world, moving beyond sectarianism, it sometimes seems hard to move beyond racism and all the other forms of prejudice too.

The sporadic attacks on foreign communities like the Romanian stand-off in the Village area of Belfast in 2009 and the occasional violence against Polish families make the point. Nonetheless, it’s a positive work in progress, this multi-faceted Ulster.

And Community Relations Week (CRW), running from May 14-20, underlines that.

CRW was founded in 2003 and is celebrating its 10th year of supporting inclusive projects and initiatives by groups like Arts Ekta and Beyond Skin and the Ballymena Inter Ethnic Forum, which exist to promote integration in communities.

This year, the theme is ‘No More Them and Us’ and there are over 150 events being rolled out across the country.

Ivy Ridge of the Ballymena Inter-ethnic Forum explains: “We aim to help build a culturally diverse society in Ballymena where everyone is welcomed, valued, safe, and empowered.

“It’s a slow process but we can see change happening all around us and what makes all the hard work worthwhile is the difference we make to the lives of people who have chosen to make Ballymena their home.”

We spoke to six people living in Northern Ireland now whose roots are elsewhere, and who are participating in Community Relations Week, to find out what it’s really like to relocate to Northern Ireland. The Sri Lankan teacher

Kousalayaa Somasundran (24) is Sri Lankan and a qualified teacher. She lives by herself in Belfast. She says:

“I do traditional Bollywood dance programmes and workshops with the Arts Ekta group. Introducing people here to our dance certainly brings people closer together and when I do workshops, I give some background about India too.

“I moved here in 2001 with my family, because of the political situation in my homeland. I have to say I’m glad I did as after going to Newtownbreda High School I went to Stranmillis University College and gained a BEd in teaching. I qualified in July 2010 and although it’s been hard trying to find a permanent job, I’ve been lucky getting substitute teaching at Regent House Grammar School. It was always my ambition to teach.

“What are the best things about being here? The educational opportunities and that people here are very welcoming and friendly.

“I’ve made great friends and the families nearby have really accepted us. We’ve even been invited to people’s homes at Christmas, which is a special time, although we’re not Christian.

“I have experienced racism but it happens and in a way it’s understandable. It’s not as serious as it was, though, people here are getting used to people from different cultures partly because of all the festivals and events.

“As a teacher, I know the new curriculum helps to address the issues.

“Even in primary school, with the One World Day and different projects which help children learn about aspects of life abroad like food and clothing and in secondary school, they study comparative religion.

“I would like to be able to go back to Sri Lanka but I regard Northern Ireland as my home.”

A full listing of Community Relations Week events can be found at www.nicrc.org.uk and printed programmes can be obtained from local libraries.

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