Sunday, 3 March 2013

Farset, and home

Day 9 and 10
          Saturday was actually a day off for folks – they were free to choose whatever they wanted to do. Caitlyn, understandably, wanted to spend more time with her relatives. The rest of the group chose to take a bus to Newcastle at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, where some would choose to do a long hike, others would walk the beach and spend time in a local cafe. Most came back to Belfast mid-afternoon and either came back to Farset for a rest, others still kept going and took in another museum.
          Ruth at Farset was already cooking for a crowd of 45 youth, and offered to give us dinner (chicken curry, rice, lasagna, roast potatoes, salad) for 6 pounds. Who could turn down an offer like that? It was a wonderful meal, and an opportunity to gather casually in the Farset dining room. Farset is quite an amazing place ... a combination between a motel and a hostel. Every Sunday night there is an evangelical Christian church service, with much fervour and loud music. This morning during our reflection and evaluation session in the dining room, there was a large Buddhist group chanting in the room. All weekend long there were about 45 youth from a local church youth group with their leaders on a weekend retreat. During the week, there are high powered business meetings and community groups. It’s an amazing place to just sit in the middle of the small bistro and people watch. (plus, it’s the only place where you can be assured internet access!)
          As I write this Finton Ryan comes by to ask if I’ve enjoyed my stay. I saw him all last week but we hadn’t talked other than to greet each other in the halls. He’s a young man from Dublin who comes up every Sunday night for a week of training with an organization called Springboard. Six Catholics, six Protestants, getting skills in business management, communications, peace and reconciliation. He wants to be a youth worker, and work with youth around the world.
          It’s been our home for 8 nights, and we have come to feel quite at home here. Whether we are bantering with Ruth or asking Lynn or Joe on the desk to call us a cab, we have been made to feel welcome. Below are two pictures of the group with Ruth. Today, after our evaluation, we went to St. George’s Market for lunch, then split up into the museum group and the shopping group. We met for dinner, (at the Alley Cat, below) and as I write this folks are finishing their packing for our early flight to London, then Halifax tomorrow.
          It’s been an amazing journey – and I know we will be continuing to process all that we have experienced for a long time to come. Trish came to say goodbye to us tonight, and said “I hope to see some of you next year.” I hope so too.

Two Tapas

Day 7 and 8
          After a successful day at Boys Model on Thursday, we had a scheduled appointment to visit a group in East Belfast, a Unionist area, at the Andy Tyrie Interpretive Centre. The Centre is a group associated with Charter for Northern Ireland ( whom we visited last year and wanted to connect with again this year. We were invited to meet folks at the Centre to talk about the peace process from the perspective of the UDA, the Ulster Defense Association. We were met by William (Billy) Rowan, Jackie McBurney, and Bobby Oshcroft, all volunteers, and two of them former UDA prisoners (pictured with the group, below).
          It’s impossible to encapsulate the two hours that we spent with these three men, who told their stories passionately and in great detail. The Interpretive Centre is filled with newsclippings, artifacts from prison days, weapons, and flags. Of course, we talked about the current flag protests and their understanding of what was happening. As they walked us around the centre, several of us made the connection to what Michael had said in Derry about the importance of people being able to tell their stories, and to feel that they have been heard. All three are dedicated to the peace process, and admit to mistakes they have made individually, and collectively as the UDA. Jackie is currently studying Peace and Reconciliation, and all are commited to the peace process. One thing that amazed us was when they said that Sinn Fein was teaching them how to document their stories, and how to organize politically, because they are years ahead of them in both of those areas.
          On Friday afternoon after the school sessions, we visited Tar Anall, the republican organization that works with ex prisoners and their families. Last year we met with Pat Sheehan, Sinn Fein MLA and former hunger striker, but because he was on his way to Palestine and unable to meet with us, we met with Eibhlin Glenholmes. The SMU group met with Eibhlin last week and Bridget said it was a wonderful session. For some of Eibhlin’s story, try
          It’s safe to say that the two hours we spent with Eibhlin was riveting. Her story over the past 40 years brought herself, and many of us, to tears. She apologized at the end for taking so long, but none of us seemed to mind. Presenting a very different interpretation of the flag protests, it was clear that she too was commited to the peace process. The complexities of the issues became very real to us through hearing these two personalized stories.
          On Thursday night Trish from Bernardo’s took us out to dinner. We went to a wonderful Spanish tapas restaurant called The Two Taps, and had an amazing meal together. Tapas are appetizers ... the prelude to the meal. However, folks often make meals of many different tapas, which is exactly what we did. We had many different dishes, meat, vegetarian, fish, potatoes ... As I reflect on our visits to East Belfast and Tar Anall, presenting very different histories and very different points of view, I thought perhaps they were like tapas – they certainly left us wanting more, hungering for a deeper understanding to the complex history of this country.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Giants and small boys

Day 6 & 7
Wednesday was an emotionally challenging day for me. It started well enough, with a worship led by Alana, Caitlyn and I in the Croi. At the request of volunteer Martha from Maine, who was at Corrymeela for several weeks when I was there in the summer of 2011, and who is now the Director’s assistant, we agreed to lead the morning reflection time. It was a nice, gentle opening to the day, and left me with warm memories of the privilege of being able to have that gift on a daily basis.
We then headed off for a quick trip to the Giant’s Causeway in the Corrymeela bus, with Peter driving. Further down in this blog you can find the origins of the Causeway, and the legend of Finn McCool. “What do you mean legend?” said Peter when I asked Steph to explain the story ... “What do you mean story?” said Peter ... “ok” I said, “the history of Finn McCool.” As I said earlier in this blog, you don’t get too far in Northern Ireland, and Corrymeela, without knowing about Finn McCool, the giant who “built” the Causeway. Although we didn’t have a lot of time, the group got to the bottom to see the rocks and I was able to poke around the new, very impressive Interpretation Centre of this World Heritage Site. And yes, I shopped in the gift shop.
Back at Corrymeela we had an evaluation and then lunch, and we were on our way back to Belfast. During these past three days, I have been truly moved by the number of staff who seemed genuinely happy to see me, and interested in the group and what we were doing. I had several deep conversations with folks who will help me continue to shape this program. As we climbed on the bus, Paul advised “keep writing the blog, and remember Derek from Brazil.” I left Corrymeela for the second time, again richly blessed by my experience.
Peter drove back to Belfast along the Antrim Coast road, which took a bit longer, but is much more picturesque. He was lively and informational all along the journey – full of facts and anecdotes about everything from who owned the small castle on the side of the road, to the salmon that are helicoptered to the salmon farm in the bay.
When we arrived back at Farset, the mood immediately changed. We were all anxious about going into Boys Model School in the morning. Boys Model is a huge, protestant boys school. We found out several weeks ago that Trish from Bernardo’s had placed us there for the last two days of the week, working with boys at the youngest end of the high school spectrum, the year 8s ... aged 11 and 12. It was unclear to us what exactly was expected, and what the topics were that the teachers hoped to have covered. All around, it was just making everyone a little jumpy and worried. We were supposed to meet Trish late afternoon, but because of work commitments we weren’t able to meet with her until about 7. She reassured the group that whatever was planned was going to be great, but the group wasn’t so sure. After Trish left, they split into their two teams for several hours to finalize their sessions. I realized that as much as I wanted to control things, to swoop in and make a plan, I had to just let go and trust the group. I had to let go. It’s hard when you think you have the answers ... which as it turns out, I probably didn’t.
Thursday morning, a very tense group met Craig Carlisle, the teacher who arranged our visit, who picked us up in a mini bus to travel to the school. The bus was noticeably silent on the trip over. It was explained that over the next two days the group would facilitate sessions with about 150 boys aged 11-12, in classes of about 30, so each group of 4 would have about 15 pupils each session. And the first group was the special needs group with all boys in that group having some form of learning disability, ADD, or autism. “I’m glad I didn’t know that last night!” said Ariane.
I was an observer, alternating between groups. After 10 minutes, I knew all would be well. Each of the young women have much experience leading camps and working with children, and in working with teams. We had worked on the guiding principles of the sessions weeks ago, which were that they were to be conversational rather than content-oriented, and in order to facilitate that, they would try to break into smaller groups as much as they could. In between the conversations, they would insert fun and silly ice breakers and games to keep the boys’ attention. 
The teachers made a point to tell the Dal group at the end of the session how amazed they were that the boys stayed attentive for the whole session. Both groups of leaders had amazing conversations with the boys over the course of the two days. My observation of both groups over the two days was that there was deep listening going on, between leaders and students, and even between the students. Needless to say, Craig mentioned to me on Friday morning that the bus was much more animated on the trip over. Below is Craig with the Dal students, several pictures of the small group discussions, one group singing "Waddle-ee-atchy", one group pretending to be sizzling Canadian bacon, and one of the group drawings. A wonderful success all around!

Stroke City

Day 5
          Tuesday morning at 10 am we were on the bus to Derry ... a trip of about one hour and fifteen minutes.  I got used to calling the city “Derry” because that’s mostly how it’s referred to at Corrymeela, but of course it’s also known as Londonderry ... depending on whether one is loyalist, or nationalist. Our guide at the Peace and Reconciliation Group said some call it “stroke” city, because officially it’s Derry/Londonderry, or even L/Derry.
          Although she couldn’t be with us for the trip, Yvonne from Corrymeela had set up meetings with folks at the Peace and Reconciliation Group. Even though we arrived a bit earlier than our scheduled visit, we were welcomed in by Michael Doherty, Director, and before too long given coffee, and tea and snacks.
          Michael told us the story of the organization, born out of a women’s peace organization in Belfast in 1976. Quoting from some of their materials, The Peace and Reconcilation Group (PRG) was established “to address practical ways to work toards understanding and reconciliation in the context of the conflict of Northern Ireland. Throughout its history it has used a variety of diverse programmes to allow people to build bridges among communities that have been polarised by the historical and political events that have occurred in Northern Ireland.”
          Michael spoke passionately and candidly about the work in which he has been involved for many years. He said that he disagreed with folks who state that Northern Ireland is in a “post conflict situation”, and that in fact “we are in a conflict that has been transformed, and is more subtle.” The PRG’s work involves projects and programmes aimed at young people, children and families, and ex-combatants. It is also a leading training organization in the North West region of Northern Ireland in the areas of mediation and peace building.
          Our group was impressed with Michael’s ability to present several points of view, while still being clear about stating his own biases and feelings. He was a wonderfully engaging speaker, and afterwards took us on a walking tour of the walls of Derry, pointing of places of interest, the murals of the Bogside (site of the Bloody Sunday massacre), and historical facts along the way.
          After our walking tour, Yvonne had arranged for us to meet with Maureen Hetherington, Director of The Junction, a community relations resource and peace building centre also located in Derry/Londerry ( Maureen explained that for many years people working in the area of peaace building didn't know what the other was doing. The Junction creates opportunities for folks to see each other as practitioners who could help each other, and could "re-humanize" a perceived enemy. People can get take part in an accredited training program around storytelling and forgiveness which leads to understanding and healing.
          Maureen also talked specifically about the Ethical and Shared Remembering Project, which is about the societal story we tell ourselves about our past. Using the decade 1912-1922 as a prism, the project helps folks explore significant events in their entirety and begin to understand the complexities of the past, learn from the mistakes and make choices for a better future. Maureen has done work in both the U.S. and Canada, and was interested in conversations and connections about work being done within and among aboriginal communities in North America.
          It was a very full day, and there was quiet on the bus during the return to Corrymeela – much processing and  reflection about the dedication and hard work of those who work at peace building in these times. Below are pictures from Sam's camera: a picture of the Bogside, with the dove peace mural; a picture of Michael on our tour, a picture of Emma, Alana, Caitlyn, and Michael, and a picture of the group with Steph and Matthew just before the Peace Bridge.


Day 9
          In the interest of transparency, I will say that it is now Saturday, March 2 ... except for an official evaluation and reflection tomorrow morning, the program part of the trip is over. I am enjoying a relaxing morning at Farset (more on Farset later ...) getting caught up on the blog, doing laundry, and enjoying some down time while the rest of the group has gone on a day trip to Newcastle at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. I did this trip last year with Sarah, and it was a wonderful way to end the week, but today I felt the need for some time to myself. Later today I will wander to the City Centre for lunch, perhaps at Madden’s, a pub with my dad’s family’s namesake and one I have been meaning to visit for some time. We'll all meet back at Farset tonight for dinner.
          I am exhausted – both physically and emotionally.  This week has gone beyond even my own dreams and expectations. There have been bumps and challenges for sure, but in the end, it’s been an amazing experience. For me, it’s the culmination of three years of thinking and planning, and five months of intensive working with a team of 8 incredibly amazing young women who have taught me so much, and who I know will do great things in the future. 

So, now I will work backwards to tell the story of the last few days. Below is the group doing an art reflection Tuesday evening with Steph and Matthew.