This was an amazing week; it really made me proud of the work I am doing and my choice to come to Northern Ireland. This week didn’t start out that exciting at all, in fact the only work I had was to check in with the facilitators working on the CAPs. However, on Monday I got an email to attend a program in Derry on Wednesday to discuss the religious societies and cultural holidays for both Catholics and Protestants. Then on Tuesday I went along to a meeting with Emer where I met a small organization called Community Relations In Schools (CRIS). This organization focuses on bringing schools of different religious backgrounds together to create relationships among the students. This was a really interesting issue for me since I have always been interested in education and I knew the issues surrounding separated education in Northern Ireland were very complicated. Though the meeting was about finance and invoices, I was able to talk to the head of the organization, Lisa. She was a very welcoming and clearly extremely passionate about the work she was doing. When she discovered my interest in education and a desire to get out and visit the communities directly, she extended an invitation to attend a residential this week. I was stunned with her generosity and her quick invitation to someone she barely knew. Of course I accepted her offer and soon enough, my week had become very interesting indeed. After researching their programs I realized how unique CRIS was in that they are trying not only to get the children to interact, but have included the parents in many of the projects. They are working in some of the most divided areas of the country and working to improve relations among students, parents, teachers, and administrators.
On Wednesday I started my day in Derry where I attended a four-hour session with a program called Creating Space for Learning and Sharing Project. I was able to see a new city and be a participant in a project with other people from the community. The purpose of the day was to tour the member’s meetinghouse and have a discussion about flute bands. I learned a lot about the history of the different religious orders and the conflict surrounding the marching bands. The people who were participating in the event were members of various groups a few of which were: The Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, The Ancient Order of Hibernius, Sinn Fein, previous members of the IRA, and the Ulster Volunteer Army, flute and marching bands and several other organizations. All of these groups are important factors in the peace process and are all involved in shaping the country today. It was a great opportunity to speak with these men in a very casual and personal environment. We were able to speak freely about some of the politics and history surrounding the religious orders.
After the workshop I went to the retreat center for the residential. I am so grateful I was invited to join in on this event. I was able to see a program in action and speak with both the parents and the children about their experience. It was such a great moment seeing both communities come together and create friends that previously would have never been possible. The children were so accepting of the children from the other school, they were quick to make friends and get along. The parents were much slower to trust and open up to the group. Many of them did not interact with parents from the other school for the first day. But by the second day I had a hard time identifying the parents from different schools. It was a great transformation process and I am really glad I got to see it in person. I got a chance to have some really wonderful conversations with both the parents and the teachers on the trip about their opinions of CRIS and their support for cross community work. I also spoke with Catherine and Lisa about the program as a whole and the development of the project. I was able to learn so much about the education system in Northern Ireland as well as the difficulties of segregated education. This experience has made me want to focus my research paper that I will write based on my experience here in Northern Ireland on the problems of separated education. Overall this was a great experience that allowed me to go out and meet the community and see a project being delivered.