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Limerick’s Gateway to Education: The homework club

Volunteers at Gateway to Education, Limerick. Picture: Cian Reinhardt
Cian Reinhardt

As you enter the homework club you hear a myriad of children getting ready with their books. Volunteers take their seat and sign-up sheets on the counter fill up fast.

In 2012, struggling to make ends meet, Suzanne Roche reached out to her neighbours for help. They responded overwhelmingly to her aid by lending her school books. She decided to return the favour by lending these books out to more people in need.

Five years and a rented shop later, Roche has her counter buzzing with worried parents and anxious students, looking for books from primary up to third level education.

The Limerick’s Gateway to Education project, Roche’s brainchild, seeks at providing second hand books and uniforms at reduced prices for struggling families and students that spend a fortune on book-lists every year.

The project also runs a homework club at a nominal fee, with volunteers ranging from retired teachers, students and people looking for a job experience.

“I started with four kids around my kitchen table, with no background on the education side. I ended up doing a presentation at the Limerick Institute of Technology and I was told that there were so many charities, I’d only be looking at six people for my project and I walked out with 32,” beamed Roche.

Paul Kelly, coordinator of the Homework Club, looks over the counter at the community hall at Plassey Village as young boys and girls make their way up to their seats.

“Our aim is to provide this service nationally for everyone, to be a national charity running alongside every third level education with a shop in each area that will support it. Along with that put pressure on book stores to try and get the cost of new books down as well,” Mr Kelly explains.

Volunteers at Gateway to Education, Limerick. Picture: Cian Reinhardt

Volunteers at Gateway to Education, Limerick. Picture: Cian Reinhardt

A few months ago the project expanded its horizon to include the entirety of County Limerick, “There are 182 schools in County Limerick and we decided to approach them, we now have 16,000 books in good condition contributed by 30 of these schools,” added Mr Kelly.

In her days as a volunteer, a student from Angola was given the project to seek alternative ways to utilise all these books. They came up with the idea to send these books out to African homework clubs as means of charity as well as to expand their service.

After months of hard work, a charity in Amsterdam, Read to Grow has agreed to transport these books to the villages in Africa for students in need.

Mduduzi Ndhlovu has been working with the project for the last three months. A native of Africa, he recalls his schooldays when he would see vans come in with books from Europe.

Now, years later, he is on the other side of the table getting these books ready to be sent out to Africa.

The Charity Shop up at Wickhman Street.

The Charity Shop up at Wickhman Street.

In order to expand and to further grow, the project requires a fully digitised system to run on a larger scale.

Adrian Morgan, CEO of a consulting agency, has spent countless hours to prepare a system for the charity – free of cost.

Among the several volunteers, a few work at the store to organise and sort the plethora of books.

Jeovany Cuesta, a student of Bachelor’s in Accountancy at The Limerick School of Further Education, believes that the project provides a service in order to reach a bigger purpose.

The beaming smile behind the counter belongs to Karen Keane, fondly known as the eyes and ears of the shop.

“You can see the difference you are making in people’s life, sending a child to school is very expensive, but sending them to a school also changes their life,” Ms Keane said.

With very little aid coming their way the team has their fingers crossed for the upcoming KBC Bank Bright Ideas Awards as they make their way up to the top ten.

Limerick Voice hopes they have a positive outcome.

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