Five years ago I came to Ireland to join my husband, who had then been working here for three years, writes Hana Niedermeierova. I was already fifty at that time and it was sometimes tough to find a job.
I knew that it was very important to know the language of the country you live in so during periods of unemployment I tried to find some activity where I could speak with local people. One day I learned that there was a charity in Galway called Age Action, where older people learned how to use computers.
I was a little bit shy when I met my first student, but I soon realised that this activity is very mutually beneficial.
I was challenged to understand spoken English and the experience broadened my vocabulary, while the students learned new activities on a computer step-by-step and became more confident in using it.
Very often they came because they planned to use a computer for just one thing, but most of them became regular computer users afterwards.
Emotionally I was probably most touched by the life story of Bríd. She was an older lady who had recently buried her son who died of a brain tumour at the age of thirty.
Before he passed away the family managed to organise a proper wedding ceremony for him and his bride. Sadly, shortly after the wedding he died.
His wife wrote a beautiful message in praise of her husband. Bríd was deeply moved and wanted to share it with her relatives and friends. The text was in a Word document and she needed to know how to send it as an attachment by email.
So, shortly after the burial of her son, she enrolled in the Getting Started Programme with Age Action. Using a computer at that difficult period of her life helped her to stay in touch with other family members and I hope that it helped her, at least a little, to get over that sad time.
Solving traffic problems
Pat was another very interesting student. A retired Garda, he had a very interesting idea to solve Galway’s terrible traffic problems. He wanted to email the appropriate authorities. Together we formulated his suggestions and he sent them to Galway City Council. Pat also insisted that we send his suggestions to the Keith Finnegan Show on Galway Bay radio.
Imagine my surprise when Pat called me the next morning to tell me that he would be interviewed live on air!
Pat is also a very active member of his community and contributed to a history of the local parish. By email he contacted a local expert and they prepared a presentation of their research for the local community. One day Pat got an email with attachments from his contact.
Bear-baiting and dog-fighting
In the attachments there were a few copies of The Tuam Herald dating back to 1888. But Pat had a problem. He didn’t know how to open the attachments or how to enlarge the text to a readable size. So I showed him how and we found some very interesting stories about Galway in the 19th century.
Among other characters it mentioned one of his own predecessors, a member of his family who was a very successful doctor in Connemara.
The other person mentioned in the newspaper was Richard Martin, known as “Humanity Dick” and Pat told me about his work protecting animal rights.
He helped found the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was one of the first politicians to campaign against bear-baiting and dog-fighting.
Some time later I saw an advertisement for a great play called Humanity Dick and I decided to go. Without my student I would never have known Richard Martin’s story and that’s just one example of everything I have been privileged to learn from my students!