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Lafferty refuses to turn her back on countless people in dire need of help in Northern Ireland and has now been recognised for her efforts by The National Lottery’s People’s Portrait campaign

By Alec McQuarrie

Mary Lafferty was planning to return to Saudi Arabia after the COVID pandemic eased, but now cannot turn her back on the increasing number of people in need of her help in Northern Ireland.

Lafferty set up the Empowering Refugees and Newcomers Organisation (ERANO) last November to support new arrivals in the Omagh/Fermanagh area and beyond.

Her tireless enthusiasm and hard work has seen her to become part of a ’campaign championing the individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things for their communities and peers in supporting refugees, with the support of National Lottery players who raise £30 million for good causes every week.

To celebrate her incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises her story.

Initially designed to help Syrians fleeing the conflict in their home country, ERANO expanded to accommodate Ukrainian refugees and now anyone from overseas who finds themselves at a loss.

“It is a vital service that we’re providing here, absolutely,” she said . “If you would speak to any of the Syrians or Ukrainians, they themselves would say, because they’ve told us repeatedly, that they’re so thankful.

To celebrate Lafferty's incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises her story.
To celebrate Lafferty's incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises her story.

“They don’t know where they would go or who they could go to if we weren’t here.

“Without the funding from the National Lottery, we wouldn’t be able to offer this support and advice to anyone.

“This is a very rural region, and we cover a very vast area, so we have to spread ourselves to be able to cover it.”

Before National Lottery funding provided a platform for ERANO to operate, Lafferty was asked to teach English to the incoming Syrian refugees as a volunteer. Lafferty said: “It became very apparent that they needed an awful lot more help.

“They were coming to me at every class asking if I can make a phone call for them, if can I come to their house to read a letter or if I can I fill out this form for them. It became overwhelming, and I realized this needs to be addressed.”

ERANO helps families access services, provides information workshops and runs countless social events, from Thai cooking classes to Zumba.

For Lafferty, support is as much about connecting with new arrivals on a personal level as it is providing crucial career or legal guidance. “They come in on a high and after the first week or two then it starts to hit - I’m on my own. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what to do,” said Lafferty.

“We had one lady from Ukraine who said she was happy that her and her two sons were safe. But how could she rest?

“Her husband is still in Ukraine, and he could be called up every day and her parents are still there. So mentally she couldn’t rest. The stress was just too high for her.

“We realize that apart from the practical stuff, we also have to look at the mental stress and anguish behind that.”

In the past Lafferty spent time living in Saudi Arabia and India and was involved with charitable organisations and now refuses to turn her back on the vulnerable people she supports. “I thought I’d given this up, but these people become like family. We run a very professional organization here, but at the same time you’re human and they’re human.

“It’s compassion and I couldn’t walk away at this stage, definitely not.”

Mary’s portrait has been created alongside two additional digital portraits have been created by artist Yoniest Chun, depicting the stories of other individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things for their communities and peers in supporting refugees as part of The National Lottery’s Peoples’ Portraits series. Also honoured with a portrait is Vladyslava Zhmuro from the Welsh Refugee Council, Abdul Bostani from Glasgow Afghan United and Mariia Lata from the Yellowscarf organisation in Evesham, Worcestershire.