Pictured at the launch of the Focus Ireland booklet, ‘Through the Lens of Covid 19’ were Devin Eamon Power (aged two) with his mother Ciara. Photos: Patrick Browne
IN 50 well considered and thoughtfully designed pages, ‘Through the Lens of Covid 19’ captures the sentiments of Focus Ireland clients and staff throughout the most tumultuous two years most of us will ever have to face.
The work, which was recently launched by City & County Mayor Joe Kelly (Ind) in the Theatre Royal’s vestibule, is the brainchild of Focus’s Preparation for Education Training & Employment (PETE) service.
Mayor Kelly aptly drew a comparison between the regeneration of the very space he was standing in and the sense of rebirth and renewal that’s reflected in the lives of Focus Ireland customers – as they’re referred to in the book.
“Sometimes things go very well for a period, sometimes we end up in a bit of a dip and then through projects just like (PETE), people find themselves on the upslope again, coming back as something different, something new or another version of themselves.”
Take Gemma Hoole, a Focus customer and contributor to the book, who revamped her back garden over the course of last summer.
“The garden was my safe space during the lockdown,” she said. “It was my freedom, a place where I could relax with my little boy. It really kept me going throughout the pandemic. I have lots of new planting ideas in mind for next year’s garden already.”
A poem from an anonymous customer captured a sentiment shared by many during a period when restrictions felt unending. “World in lockdown, People bunker down, Country in lockdown, Businesses broken down, Communities in lockdown, Virus cases won’t slow down, Social groups in lockdown, Not a soul downtown, My world in lockdown, New variants rain down, Scientists please pin it down.”
Keile, a Waterford-based customer who spoke at the book launch, linked into PETE after exiting the foster care system once she turned 18.
“In the last two years, I have gone to college to study animal care and I’m now working in a doggy day care centre in Waterford, a job which PETE helped me to get,” she said.
“I’ve also done other courses such as a nail technician’s course in the Beautorium Academy and I’ve completed my Driving Ambition programme through Waterford Area Partnership – I hope to do my driving theory test soon. I got involved with the booklet during Covid and it has allowed me to share my experience with others. PETE is after helping me with education but it’s also after helping me to link in with other services and I’ve really enjoyed being a part of it.”
Shannon White Connors, who also addressed the launch, spoke of ‘losing herself’ several years ago before she regained a sense of who she truly was and wanted to be.
“I’ve been linked in with PETE for a while. Laura (Cushen) and Emer (O’Keeffe) have helped me go to college, do many courses… and I’m just in a very good place now, I’m very happy and I really appreciate all the help.”
She then shared her poem, ‘Dealing With It’, with the gathering. “When Covid first appeared I didn’t know how serious it would be; I thought it was mild and nothing to be feared; Until the cases started rising and people started dying; I finally realised, it gave me anxiety; Locking us away and taking our humanity; I know it was for our health; But they have been power tripping for so long; How can this go on?; It’s against our human rights, it’s wrong; The first outbreak I was away from my family and sick, sick with worry; Calling my kids on a video call; Looking at them so innocent and small; They didn’t have a clue why Mammy was away; I’ll be back soon, I’m getting better by the day; I’m so happy to be home with my children; They’re safe and healthy, that’s all that matters; I know Covid isn’t gone away, It’s more likely here to stay; It’s a virus we unfortunately have to find a way of living with; It’s divided the human race; Wearing masks, I don’t even recognise my own family’s face; It definitely has put our mental health to the test; All these new rules and laws, I feel it’s a mess; We want our freedom back, why one rule for another?; The government can choose but we have to suffer; Stop using us as guinea pigs, putting poison in our bodies; Let us have our own views and let us be heard; Don’t manipulate me to feel bad about you; I really do think it’s a messed-up world.”
Another anonymous contribution to the book included a passage that I read and then read again given the chord it struck with me.
“Through it all I seem to have found my true self at work, a more real me. I hope that my customers can see me differently than before. Do they see me differently, more human and more flawed? It’s okay to be flawed, nobody is perfect. My guard has been lowered, boundaries are different. I understand the human side of what I’m trying to achieve, to work, to parent, to be.”
As Focus Ireland’s Lisa O’Brien put it, ‘Through the Lens of Covid 19’ is “a fabulous manifestation” of not only PETE’s efficacy but of the determination of each of its contributors to make life both easier and better.
“Covid has brought many changes but I have made even more and have peace of mind,” another anonymous entry states. “I can cope with whatever Covid throws at me.”
Featuring photos by Noel Fogarty, ‘Through the Lens of Covid 19’, which was funded by the Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board (WWETB), represents a distinctive account of two trying years in Waterford. Well done to all who brought it to book.
In conversation with Dermot Keyes
Focus Ireland’s Nicola Stewart pictured at the recent launch in the Theatre Royal’s vestibule.