Local Faces: Alpha Gassama

By Maurice Garvey

ARRIVING in Ireland from Guinea in 2004, Alpha Gassama spent close to ten years at asylum centres in Cork, Limerick, Mosney and the Towers Hotel in Clondalkin.

While living in accommodation in Kinsale, Co Cork, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Gassama helped to organise a fund for people affected by the natural disaster in New Orelans.

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Alpha Gassama (Image: Aidan O'Neill)

“For the first time in my knowledge, America asked publicly for help,” said Alpha.

“I had an idea to organise with an old Iraqi man, a collection for Katrina relief in USA. Members of the management in the centre were mocking me by telling me I don’t know America is the richest country in the world.

“I said yes in mass destruction, but not the support of its most vulnerable communities. Iraq was being bombed by America at that time but the Iraqiman was the first to join me to collect for America.

“That time, we were not allowed to work or study with just €19.20 per week but we raised around €56 and sent it to American Red Cross through Irish Red Cross. I travelled to see him a few years ago in Cork City, he is very sick now.”

Gassama spent most of his time in direct provision at the Towers Hotel in Clondalkin.

Covid-19 presented serious concerns about the inability for people to social distance in direct provision centres – an element of his past life Alpha is grateful to have moved on from.

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Alpha Gassama (Image: Aidan O'Neill)

“It is impossible to be away from people in the Towers – there are three people in a room and you queue for everything,” he said.

“I read that the government want to do something about the centres, hopefully they will now.”

During his time as a resident in the Towers for nearly six years, Alpha got involved in local community projects.

One of his first projects was organising residents to go out and clean up illegal waste.

 He would go on to co-found Clondalkin Tidy Towns, which has become a very strong community group, meeting up weekly to carry out numerous initiatives.

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Alpha Gassama (Image: Aidan O'Neill)

For Alpha, motivation for volunteering was to keep the mind and body occupied while living in a state of limbo, but also to build positive relationships with the local community, in what can be an isolating experience.

In early March Alpha received his Irish citizenship from the State.

Alpha is also a French speaking volunteer tour guide with the Round Tower Visitor Centre Bru Chronain.

In 2013 local politicians and residents rallied to prevent a deportation order issued to Alpha by the State, recognising his dedication to community initiatives.

Ultimately the campaign was successful and then Minister for Justice Alan Shatter rescinded the order. Since then, Alpha has continued to volunteer and lives in private rental accommodation in Clondalkin.

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Alpha Gassama (Image: Aidan O'Neill)

Last October the Guinea native launched his own painting and graffiti removal business AGC Remedy in Áras Chrónáin.

However, no sooner had the business started to flourish, like other ‘non-essentials’, he had to down tools.

“I was working painting a fence in a cemetery at Monastery but had to stop,” he said.

“At this time who will want a painter in their home. I have other work lined up and hopefully when we are back I will finish the cemetery and move on to the next job.”

As of June 2, Guinea had 3,844 reported cases of Covid-19 and 23 deaths, but Alpha acknowledges mitigating factors may be the reason why the figure is so low.

“In Africa it is different. It is not possible to get people to stay in. People live day by day. If they don’t go out, they don’t eat.

“Guinea was the first French colony to gain independence in Africa in 1958, just a few months after Ghana was the first English colony to gain independence.

“We helped our neighbours in Guinea-Bissau, a Portugal colony and Equatorial Guinea, a Spanish colony, to be free.

Guinea has a glorious history.

“Maybe this crisis will change the world, but I have been reading, doing paper work and cleaned my brushes and tools so I will be ready to go when it is over.”

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