On my way there

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             I am writing this entry as I sit in LAX for my 30-hour journey to Port Elizabeth (PE), South Africa. Once again I will be gone for two months for an internship during the summer. This time I will be working with unemployed youth on education and vocational training in the townships of PE. These townships are where most of the urban poor live and work. The organization I will be working with, Ready4Life works to improve education and job opportunities for those living in these areas. This work will be fairly different from my internship in Belfast, mainly because I will be working mostly with other interns and because I will, for the first time, be truly out of my element culturally. Last year I traveled all over Europe and was able to live both in Spain and in Northern Ireland. Both my experiences provided amazing opportunities to learn and grow in environments I felt comfortable. While I had never been to either country before, I was familiar with the cultures and customs. I knew the languages, understood the history and most importantly, I fit in. This trip I wanted to do something different. I wanted to be in a place that was completely different for me and so I decided to go to South Africa. I am sure I will get the question “why South Africa?” a lot, so I thought I would take this moment to write down my answer.

            Why South Africa? There are several simple reason, such as it is a relatively safe country and is a new region of the world for me. I also wanted to travel to a developing region that has become more internationally significant (my other options were Turkey or Eastern Europe). However the specific reasons for my interest in South Africa is more complicated than that. As many of you know, I am an international relations major focusing on human rights. After my trip to Belfast I became interested in post-conflict regions and the human rights issues that follow. Most particularly I became focused on what the transitional process included, how does a country adapt to the new circumstances and learn to live in peace and allow the citizens to prosper. I have decided to focus my senior thesis on this topic and wanted to incorporate my internship this summer into my understanding of post-conflict regions. Though there are many differences from Belfast and PE, I am hoping that I will be able to compare and contrast the two cities and perhaps expand my knowledge of how the transition process works. I am curious by the process towards peace, but also by the current situation here in South Africa. How does a country with 11 different languages learn to speak to one another? What does the future hold for South Africa and the people most affected by apartheid? I know a little about the history of the country, but there is so much to learn. I am hoping that coming to PE with an open mind will allow me to find some answers. I came to South Africa for a new experience that will put me outside my comfort zone and allow me to explore my interests further.

            And now it is time to board the plane, travel halfway across the world and start a new adventure. I will post again after my first week.

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Halfway Done: Week Five

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            Now into the second part of my internship, I am beginning to understand that the peace process has many more steps and stages than I believed possible. This week I had my second workshop with the Creating Space for Learning and Sharing Project. This week we were focusing on the upcoming holiday on the 12th of July. This is generally the most discussed topic of the summer and is always a key time for peace projects. We also focused on Rural Loyalism and the future of the loyalist movement. I thought this was an important topic since I have not had a chance to understand the rural perspective in both the troubles and in the future of the country. I was able to hear from two of the political leaders of the loyalist parties and hear about their plans for the future and how they intend to move beyond the troubles. Though the talks were very informative and a great chance to understand and learn about rural loyalism, the best part of the day was the side conversations I had with all the men who attended the event. Since this was the second week we were all together, the men started opening up more and I was able to ask more personal questions. I also noticed a bit more honesty to their comments and more realistic expectations for the future. The first week many of the men would comment that the work they are doing is really important and that it was great that the country is moving on. But this week there was much more skepticism. I was glad I was able to attend this second session and form a closer relationship to the participants. 

            Back in the office I got a chance to meet and talk with the FACE team at Co-operation Ireland. This is the largest project within the organization and is the only one that is both developed and delivered by Co-operation Ireland. This means that they also have the biggest team and are always very busy, which is why I was very grateful that both project managers took the time to sit down and explained the project. FACE works with military families in Northern Ireland and aims to help include these families in their local communities. Working with military families is a completely new area for both Co-operation Ireland and the peace funders. During our discussion I expressed my interest in their work and seeing the project delivery. Both project leaders seemed very open to including me in their work and extended an invitation to attend any of their upcoming events while I am here. I am really glad I finally got a chance to sit down and hear about this great project and I hope they schedule an event while I am here so I can see the work they are doing. After speaking with the FACE team I realized how much more there is to do within the organization. I am now halfway done with my internship and I feel I have learned a lot but in ways that I was not expecting. I have had some wonderful experiences interacting with different communities and seeing projects up close.

            At the end of the week CRIS invited me to come out and talk to the parents from another project they work with that is based in the city. The event was a wrap up session that would help CRIS get feedback on the program and bring some closure to the end of the school year. I talked with parents about what they would change about the program, how they would want to see it grow, and what were the benefits of participating. This information would be used in the annual reporting done for the funders. I was so glad I was able to attend, since this was a great way talk with the parents about their experience. I was very interested in hearing what they believed was unique about the program. Many of the parents expressed their gratitude towards CRIS for bringing them together with members of a different community and challenging their beliefs about a separated society. Once again I was glad to have met the CRIS team and been invited to participate in their events.

            On the weekend I went down to Dublin with Co-operation Ireland for a fundraising event. I was able to see the South for the first time and the difference was quite evident. Dublin is much more metropolitan and I noticed that the city is filled with many different ethnic minorities. I also saw that there were many signs of the Irish heritage and culture but these symbols are less contentious and do not seem to be connected to religious affiliations nearly as much as in the north.

Meeting Communities: Week Four

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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. 

Getting to Know my Housemates and Co-Workers: Week Three

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Now that I am settled into the work side of my internship, I am finally getting to know the people at both my organization and my housemates. I started the week working on interview questions for Michelle to be used for evaluation of her projects. I learned that the process started backwards with the aims of the project and then created questions that would help decide if those aims were met. For example: The Aim- Decrease in stereotyping and negative attitudes toward difference. The Question- Have you noticed any change in student attitudes towards other cultures? I enjoyed the process of creating questions and selecting teachers for interviews because it gave me a chance to understand the project and will allow me to talk one-on-one with the participants of the projects.

            I also started to feel more comfortable in the office and around my co-workers. I started asking questions about their families and a whole range of topics. The office has a very casual environment and casual conversations are encouraged throughout the day. At first all the conversation centered on my experiences in Spain and traveling, but then I asked about their children and where they were from and how they came to Co-operation Ireland. This week we also started to discuss more sensitive topics such as the politics behind cross community and cross border work. Many of my co-workers expressed their frustrations with the extreme oversight of some of the funding bodies and their belief that their work was a long and slow process. I asked a lot of questions about the peace process and about their own opinions of the change in Northern Ireland over the last decade. Towards the end of the week I got a chance to talk to Anthony, the office manager, about what I wanted from my internship and how I felt about the projects I was working on currently. I expressed my interest in working on project development and delivery. He was very open to me exploring new opportunities and offering me possible contacts to find ways to get more involvement. We both acknowledged that this would be a very tough time to find that direct contact simply because most of the projects are coming to an end.

            After work I spent most of my time with my housemates. I am living in a great apartment with three girls who are all studying at Queen’s University in Pharmacy. They all identify themselves as Irish and come from a small town about two hours from Belfast. We talked a lot about the division between the two communities. In many ways the girls I live with are very much accepting of sharing society with Protestants, but to a certain extent they live separate lives from many Protestants. To them, the conflict is in the past and they believe that it is the older generation that must give up what has happened and move on. However, there are still elements of their lives that follow the patterns of society to keep people of different religions separated. For example, all of the girls went to catholic high school and university. They also still feel very uncomfortable with many of the Protestant holidays and traditions and joke about Protestant stereotypes. They made it clear to me that they have nothing against Protestants; in fact two of the girls are dating Protestants, but that it is still common to make jokes and somewhat inappropriate comments about the opposite community. These talks have helped me understand the community a lot better.

Birthday and Busy Days: Week Two

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Rope Bridge

This was another fast week here in Belfast, I had my birthday on the 3rd and celebrated both in the office and with my housemates and my parents have come to visit and just arrived on Sunday. I spent the first part of my week working on the CAPs which included working on the budget and ensuring all the financials were in order and overviewing the evaluation required by the funders of the program. Though this was quite dull at first, I realize that this is an important aspect of the program and without spending time figuring out these details, the project could not continue. Thankfully the second half of the week was more engaging. I went down to the city docks and visited a renovated boat turned into a museum that shows the development of Belfast into and industrial city. Our visit was mainly to scout the location for a possible showcase event in the future for a concluding youth project. This was a great way to see a new part of the city, not to mention the boat was absolutely beautiful. I also got out of the office and talked to a community facilitator about the CAPs I am working on. We talked about the development of the projects and the possibility of going out and visiting the groups. During this meeting I realized how very closed off the communities are to outsiders. I realized that I could only offer my help to David and if the youth group wanted me to come visit, I could. This was surprising since I assumed there would be no issue with me going out to the youth groups. I am beginning to see first hand how hard it is to get one on one contact with these communities.

On the weekend I decided to take my first day trip up to the Antrium Coast to see the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. I was trying to go with some friends I met but plans changed and I ended up with a trip on my own. In the end I was glad I didn’t go with friends because I met some great people throughout the day. It was unusually warm that day so many travelers were out and many locals enjoying the sunshine. I took a direct bus there and got the scenic bus back, which meant I got to see all the different costal cities on my trip back into town. It was nice to just walk around and talk with all the other visitors. While at the Rope Bridge I met a photo editor who was in Belfast for the week at a photography exhibition. She asked if she could take a picture for her instagram blog and I agreed, so now somewhere there is this picture out there. It was also great to chat with some locals about living on the coast and I realized it was a very different type of living than in rural and urban areas. I talked with a man about his experience with the troubles and he recalls a very different memory than most other people his age. For him the troubles were fairly quiet and there wasn’t as much violence or protests in the area. He says he didn’t know much about it growing up especially since he didn’t leave his village often. It wasn’t until he got older that he began to realize the seriousness of the situation. It was great to be able to talk with him about his life and I know had I gone with friends I wouldn’t have been able to talk with him in such detail. After my trip back I began to plan for my parents visit and I planned out their trip to the Anrtium Coast and Belfast. They arrived yesterday and we visited St. George’s Market, The Titanic Museum, and the Cathedral Quarter. Bit by bit I feel like the city is becoming more like my home.

First Impressions: Week One

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After an exhausting first week I am finally settling into my apartment and my internship. I spent the week getting an overview of all the projects as well as talking about what work needs to be done within those projects. I am working with both Emer and Michelle who oversee several projects each. I will mainly be helping Emer with a youth project that has experienced some problems along the way. I will be helping her to execute 6 community action projects (CAPs) where 15 youth groups will be creating a showcase, which highlights the work they have done throughout the year. I will be going out to visit some of these youth groups as well as the two facilitators we are working with to help execute the projects. I will also be helping Emer with evaluations of the projects, which will include talking with the youth about their experience and figuring out what needs to be changed to make the project more effective. I will also be working with Michelle with evaluations of her projects as well. I will be conducting phone interviews with some of the teachers who participated in any of Michelle’s three projects. She has also said that she hopes to have a focus group to hear what they have to say about the programs. It is doubtful I will still be here for when she conducts the focus group, but I will be helping her select the participants and schedule the event. I have also talked to several of the other project managers in the office and have told them all I am interested in getting out and into the communities to see the work being done. Unfortunately, my trip here in Belfast is poorly timed since almost all of the projects come to an end in the summer months. Once the schools are let out, many of the staff turns their attention to evaluation and creation of new projects. I have also talked to both Emer and Michelle about their plans for the upcoming year and I hope to help them with their planning. I was also able to get a chance to talk to the Peter Sheridan, our chief executive officer.  He was kind enough to sit down and talk with me about the goals of the organization, what they do, why they do it and where they are going. He also asked about my interests and what I hoped to gain from working with Co-operation Ireland. It was great to see that my interests matched up well with Peter’s description of the organization. I shared my interest in Northern Ireland as an example of conflict resolution for other parts of the world. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Peter also believe that talking about the Northern Ireland example is important in a global context and recently traveled to Bahrain where he talked about the path to peace in Northern Ireland. Most of the week was spent learning about the programs and talking about plans for my time here. I also did some planning for the CAPs which included sending a detailed report of each project to the funding organization. After the first few days of work I was ready to spend a great weekend exploring the city since there was some great weather. I went to St. George’s Market and visited the Botanic Gardens that are located next to Queens University. I also went and just enjoyed a nice lunch in front of the city hall since the sun was shining and everyone was out. Overall it was a great first week and I am looking forward to a busy week ahead.

Hasta Luego Granada, Hello BELFAST!!!!!!

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The past week has been incredible. I cannot believe how fast my life has changed. Only a week ago I finished my finals and enjoyed my last few days in Granada. I said tearful goodbyes to my host mom and my new friends. I sat and stared at the beautiful Alhambra and wandered around the city that had become my home. It was extremely bizarre knowing that I had finished my semester abroad and that I would now have leave despite my desire to stay. I only had one day after my last final to enjoy the city before I got on a plane and arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Once I landed in Belfast, I had to hit the ground running. My first task was to find a new home. I spent two days looking at several apartments all across the city. But one struck me immediately as a perfect fit for my time here in Belfast. I found a great room in a four-bedroom apartment. There are three other girls who live here all from different parts of Ireland. They are all studying pharmacy and taking their final exams very soon. Everyone is very friendly and the house is very lively. It is also in a great area of the city next to a bunch of small coffee shops and boutiques. I do have to take the bus into town, which is quickly becoming very expensive. There is no way to get around the high prices of bus tickets here. I have also realized that eating out here is also very expensive. I am really glad I have such a beautiful kitchen so I can now cook whenever I want. I was very lucky to have found such a perfect place to live in such a short amount of time. On the same day I moved into my apartment I started my first day of work. I am extremely excited for the work I will be a part of during my internship. Everyone in the office is very passionate about the work we are doing. They were all extremely welcoming and friendly when I arrived. I will be working on quite a few projects and will have some freedom on the tasks I perform over the next few months. Each of the projects I will be working on will be connected to youth groups or youth aged school programs. I will also be able to visit each of the different counties in Northern Ireland as I perform on-site visits where I talk about or help execute the projects. I will talk more about the projects when I have more to talk about, but for now I will talk about the city itself. For the first few days, the weather was perfect. It was sunny, with only a few clouds and a perfect temperature for walking around. However, quickly the weather changed. One minute it was sunny and warm, but then all of a sudden it was pouring rain with hailstorms, thunder and lightening. I could not believe the sudden change and was completely unprepared for the deluge of rain. Other than random rain, there are so many other aspects of Northern Ireland culture that I must adjust to. For example, I have realized that my eating habits have become very accustomed to the Spanish style of eating which includes a very large lunch as well as a break after my meals. I am finding myself very tired around 3:00 due to the shorter lunches in Belfast. I am also finding that when people find out I am from sunny southern California they don’t understand why I have chosen to come to Belfast for the summer. I have had some great conversations regarding cultural differences and especially the different vocabulary. We have had a great laugh over all the words I don’t understand. I will try to update again this weekend. Cheers!