Belfast Telegraph

Community rallies to save annual festival for Northern Ireland town's Diwali festival

By Leona O'Neill

One of the biggest celebrations of the Indian festival of Diwali will take place in Strabane this weekend thanks to community support.

For when Tyrone's Diwali, which is now in its 13th year, was turned down for council funding earlier this year and organisers faced having to shelve the event, local people rallied around and raised the money needed.

Event organisers Daljeet Guram and Kamini Rao from the Strabane Ethnic Community Association said that they have been "blown away" by the support that has allowed them to continue with Diwali school workshops, giving children a taste of Indian culture, and events culminating in Saturday's celebration.

Diwali, which is considered the 'Indian Christmas', officially fell yesterday and will see Indian families across Northern Ireland exchange gifts, share food, pray and light candles in a celebration to mark the triumph of light over darkness. On Saturday people will descend on Strabane's St Patrick's Hall to celebrate.

Daljeet said they had considered pulling the plug on the celebration amid the funding crisis, but that the community stepped in.

"I was shocked that we didn't get awarded funding this year," she said.

"The festival was getting bigger and bigger every year and more successful and the schoolchildren were getting so much from it, with regards inclusion and diversity.

"It took a while for the news to sink in and when it was made public a school contacted me to say they would fundraise for it.

"Then more schools said the same and then businesses in the town gave us money. It bolstered us so much, it was amazing."

Strabane Chamber of Commerce donated money towards the festival, as did local companies.

Daljeet added: "At times like this you are made to feel like you are a part of the community.

"When everyone stepped up to help us, it was a great realisation that we are not foreigners here anymore, because we have full support. We do consider ourselves Strabane people."

Daljeet says that Diwali is crucial to helping fight back against rising racism in society, something her own children had to face. "It was hugely important for this festival to keep going," she says.

"Diwali is special. We are trying to fight racism and fight that at the very root, going into schools and making children aware of our different cultures and how it is OK to be different.

"It's about respecting and appreciating someone from a different culture and a different belief. We teach them how it is not negative to have someone different to you in your community.

"Whenever we go into schools we are teaching the children of this, then when they go home they speak to their parents. There is a ripple effect that rolls out. It is a beautiful thing and at that age they are very open-minded - their ideas are not rigid."

Daljeet said that her own children faced racial abuse as they were growing up.

"One of my daughters was taunted so much she was embarrassed to walk out in the street because she was brown-skinned.

"She would never walk with me when I had my Indian clothes on, but now, after seeing me develop Diwali and seeing the magic of it, she feels proud because all her friends wanted to wear the beautiful Indian clothes.

"They saw that when it came to celebrating, they could wear these elaborate, glamorous costumes and thought that it was a cool culture.

"It is important for us to celebrate Indian culture because it makes us feel included and accepted here in the community."

Daljeet said that the festivals were a way of tackling the problem of racism in society.

She said: "When we do Diwali with the schools, the children don't even realise that they are learning about these things.

"Diwali is a fun, vibrant festival, full of colour and glamour. Everyone really loves being part of it."

Strabane's Diwali celebrations will take place on Saturday at St Patrick's Hall at 7pm.

Belfast Telegraph

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