By Miriam Kerins
There’s absolutely no doubt that we all benefit from having a network of well-connected peers, an inner circle of close contacts if you like; someone who can provide us with key supports in the face of adversity, stress or other issues. The Traveller Visibility Group, (TVG) is one such support network. Based in Cork, this community organisation (set up as a family support project focusing mainly around drug and alcohol abuse), is helping members of the Traveller community as they go about their day to day lives. However, since last summer, this group, who were looking for a way to provide a specialised service for female members, specifically those who love all things hair, beauty and fashion, creatively diversified and set up a Beoirs Boutique.
We caught up with two of TVGs service providers, Traveller community health worker and mother of one, Liz McGrath and her colleague Eileen O’Shea, a mother of four, grandmother of one, (with one on the way), who is employed as a Traveller women’s awareness worker engaging with service users around domestic and gender based violence. Both ladies are passionate about this new initiative, a concept which they attribute to project worker Ann Jordan, who has, according to Liz and Eileen, “put in tremendous work. She started Beoirs Boutique and we’d like to thank her for her support.” Chatting to us on Zoom, the ladies told us how this women’s initiative has helped service users.
Pull Quote: It’s a way of getting women to do something for themselves.
“It’s like a kind of Men’s Shed. A way of getting women to do something for themselves. It started off as a drop in service where women could come in and get tips on having their hair and make-up done. We even had a volunteer hair stylist; however, with the onset of Covid we set up a Beoirs Boutique Facebook page where we post videos on things like how to do the children’s hair, videos on relaxation techniques, and tips for beauty on a budget etc.,” says Liz.
A delightful addition to the Beoirs Boutique project is the ‘bags of hope’ initiative where service users are handed a bag full of items, all of which symbolise objects that Eileen hopes will help them through times of stress, pressures and strain. “The bags contain things like an elastic band to tell women to never stretch themselves too much. A tea bag to remind them to take some time out for themselves. Women never take time out. We’re reared to undervalue ourselves, and, from an early age we’re reared to put everyone else first, to look after family first. If I don’t look after my family first I feel selfish. We put in a tube of lip gloss and a supermarket trolley disk into the bags, both of which have contact information so that the women who use our service have these numbers if they want or need support,” explains Eileen.
The ladies of the TVG have found that, due to restrictions arising from Covid, there has been a marked increase in Traveller women seeking their help. “Ever since the children went back to school, more women are looking for help and support,” says Eileen, whom, along with Liz, has noted that young Traveller women who’ve married young and had their families young are now seeking to return to education, their aim now being to enter the workforce. However, sadly, according to Eileen, these women believe “they won’t get a job in mainstream employment and will instead aim to get a position within a Traveller organisation.”
Pull Quote: Beoirs Boutique is a non-judgemental confidential service specifically available to Traveller women by Traveller women!
The TVG project, along with the Beoirs Boutique initiative is a non-judgemental confidential service specifically available to Traveller women by Traveller women seeking to help and empower each other. “We would have concerns about Traveller women’s mental health during the Covid restrictions, and this is why we set up the project,” says Eileen. However, the ladies haven’t stopped there. These innovative and caring mothers, along with their colleagues have gone one step further by setting up their ‘nominations’ initiative, which both explained is a drive to get people to “nominate someone they think deserves a bunch of flowers or a voucher,” something which we at Travellers’ Voice believes is a nice little pick-me-up that’ll not only help the recipient of the gift to feel better and brighter about themselves, but that’ll also go a long way towards helping them to make meaningful connections with their peers. Long may the Beoirs Boutique last.
For more information, log onto www.tvgcork.ie