Girl from Northern Ireland visits Paynesville for six weeks

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 7/28/98.

Siobhan Mcgeown, 11, of Belfast, Ireland, arrived in Minnesota on June 30 to meet her new family for the next six weeks, Bob and Diane Lieser, Paynesville. Her stay ends Aug. 1.

ďWe had a picture of Siobhan and were assigned a number. It was a little scary for both of us not knowing what to expect,Ē Diane said.

This is Siobhanís first trip to America. Her older brother had also taken part in the Childrenís Program of Northern Ireland.

This year, 126 10 and 11-year-olds traveled to Minnesota and Wisconsin, marking the 25th anniversary of the program. Of the total number of children taking part in the program this year, 26 are repeat visitors to Minnesota as their host families invited them back.

ďWe were told the children donít have an opportunity to return unless they are invited by their host family,Ē Liesers said.

ďThe nonprofit program helps children escape the bloodshed of their homeland for five weeks, but they also see proof that people can live together in peace and that diversity can make life interesting rather than dangerous,Ē Hazel Busby, program coordinator, said.

While in Minnesota, the Liesers have taken Siobhan to the Wisconsin Dells, Menomonie Wis., Como Park, camping, fishing, and to local baseball games. She had never seen a baseball game before coming to Paynesville. She also hopes to see the Mall of America before returning to Ireland.

Siobhan has three brothers at home, one older and two younger. Her mother just finished college and is looking for work. Her family lives in a house in the middle of Belfast.

A first for Siobhan was seeing fireworks on the Fourth of July. The Lieser family watched the fireworks on Lake Koronis. According to CPNI, fireworks are forbidden by law in Northern Ireland, except at organized displays. Families were cautioned to explain the Fourth of July celebrations to their Irish visitors.

Siobhan said they donít have Beanie Babies in Ireland so she is taking some back as gifts for family members.

Another first for Siobhan has been mosquitoes. They donít have any in Ireland. One day she counted over 30 mosquito bites.

She has had the opportunity of driving the Lieser four-wheeler and pick sweet corn in the field. Siobhan said she has never had corn straight from the field, because they usually buy it from a store.

The Liesers gave her a calf to call her own during her stay here. She has also helped tear down a shed.

Northern Ireland doesnít experience thunder and lightning, nor do they have tornadoes. ďDuring a recent storm, Siobhan and Brittany [Lieser] sat up and counted the time period between the thunder and lightning,Ē Diane said.

When it rains in Belfast, Siobhan said they head to the end of the street where the street floods and play in the water.

Siobhan explained she attends an all-girls English primary school (elementary level). Her brothers attend a co-ed Irish school across the street. Siobhan said she started school when she was four years old.

ďAt the primary level, we have three or four different classes. School starts at 9:15 a.m. At the secondary level, they have nine classes to attend,Ē she explained. When Siobhan returns to Ireland she will start school in the fall at the secondary level.

Siobhan also explained that at the secondary level, once school starts, the doors (gates) are locked. If you failed to show up at school for the first class, the school office calls your home to find out where you are. All school children in Ireland are also required to wear a school uniform.

Siobhan told the Liesers that cops are not friendly people in Ireland. They often stop cars with guns drawn. For easier access, the cops also wear their guns around their neck on a chain instead of at their side on a belt in a holster.

According to CPNI, prior to the cease-fire, police in Northern Ireland could stop cars at any time for a title and identity check, or to search the car. Often, shoppers would go through metal detectors or purse and package checks before entering stores and banks. Many of the high security measures have been relaxed since the ceasefire.

The Lieser family has been keeping a diary of Siobhanís stay with them. They heard about the program through their church and applied to be a host family last February.

ďWe were interviewed and told a lot of doís and doníts,Ē Diane said. ďWe are learning the differences in culture. There are many differences in language. Weíre finding instead of little, Siobhan uses the word Ďweeí a lot. A sweatshirt to Siobhan is a jumper, pants are trousers and sandals are flip-flips. Basically, kids are all the same whether they come from Ireland or America.Ē

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