During the summer of 2013, students in the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ DukeEngage: Dublin program are writing reflections of their time working with immigrants and refugees in the Dublin area which are being published in the weekly Irish publication Metro Eireann.
Reform in Irish Schools
Through Duke University’s DukeEngage program, a group of eight Duke students have been given the incredible opportunity to live in Dublin for the summer and work at various organizations actively involved in refugee and migrant rights. As the demographic of Ireland has drastically changed in recent years, issues of integration and interculturalism have become crucial. As pressing as they are, however, they are quite difficult to address, especially in Ireland where the population has been historically homogeneous. How do you explain to someone who has lived within a relatively isolated culture that difference is not only okay, but also something to be celebrated? This question is one that I have been struggling with each day during my time here in Dublin, specifically when placed in the context of the Irish education system.
In Ireland parents technically have the right to choose the schools their children attend. Yet, the reality is that the Catholic Church runs 98% of schools. So in many locations parents are faced with a plethora of denominational options, but little to no multi- or non-denominational ones. Not only is this unfair to those who are not of the Catholic faith, but it is also completely unfit for the current demographic of Ireland as one that continues to become more and more varied in terms of religion, ethnicity, and culture. It is quite evident that a major transformation in the education system is beginning to occur to meet the demands of a rapidly diversifying population.
Hence, I am thrilled to be working with the organization Educate Together. This NGO and newly recognized patron body seeks to establish multi-denominational schools across Ireland that approach education in a way that stresses equality and opportunity regardless of the child’s background. Catholic schools often enact entrance policies that favor Catholic students and bring Catholic practices to the center of every school day. The ethos of an Educate Together school presents a contrast and thus a helpful alternative. Educate Together schools are multi-denominational, co-educational, child-centered, and democratically run.
From my brief experience with the organization, I have become very aware of the intense amount of parental demand that exists within Ireland for more multi-denominational options. Recent studies have found that up to 10% of the school-going population subscribes to either no religion or a religion that does not control any schools. The state is beginning to realize it will need to be more proactive in building schools, especially in areas that have experienced huge population growth, reflective of the interests and diversity of all students in today’s Ireland.
I wonder, however, if “integration” is the right word for the current situation. Integration assumes that there are multiple groups that are also separate from one another. Yet, in Ireland it is obvious that the various groups that exist are not unconnected and entirely distinct from one another. The overlaps between groups’ values, desires, and needs are numerous, and the diverse groups are living amongst each other. Every day on the street I see people of all faiths, colors, and languages, and I interact with them on many levels. Hence, Ireland is a place where integration has already occurred; people from all over the world have merged together, now bound by physical borders into one body. However, while physically integrated, there may be a need for more respect for value of diversity. For meaningful, cross-cultural respect to become the norm in Ireland, citizens need to stop focusing on the differences between groups and begin to concentrate on the similarities.
In America the goal is equality of opportunity; here in Ireland the goal in education, housing and so many other areas is equality of treatment. Migration is challenging that commitment. Indeed, some groups feel as though they are being treated as second-class citizens whose rights are constantly infringed upon and whose interests are of little importance to the powerful. If all people of Ireland were to feel as though they were being treated equally, the full potential of Ireland might be easier to grasp.
Diversity Agenda for City Council
As I enter my fourth week in Dublin, Ireland, I only have one word to describe my experience: incredible. Besides the lovely, vibrant city itself, my placement at the Dublin City Council Office for Integration has been the most exciting work that I’ve ever been involved with. Our main focus at the Office for Integration is overseeing certain aspects of integration throughout the city, such as making sure migrant organizations are adequately funded. I can honestly say there has never been a dull day—every day is packed with exciting challenges. The Office of Integration supports organizations that promote an intercultural mission by providing a platform for diversity to flourish. Through funding and providing useful information to these organizations, the Office for Integration plays a vital role in this increasingly diverse city.
Throughout the past two weeks, I have attended numerous events put on by different community organizations throughout the city. Recently, my boss Declan Hayden and I attended an interfaith meeting that focused on how the intent of religion should be used to dissolve barriers to inclusion. The meeting stressed the diversity of the country (almost twenty percent of people living in Ireland were born outside of the country), and provided a forum for the exchange of information on different religious beliefs and practices. The education and exposure to different cultures and backgrounds has done for me what I would expect is the purpose of these cross-cultural engagements: erased any surface-level or subconscious xenophobia between distinct peoples.
On my first day of work, Mr. Hayden told me my project for the summer: to evaluate the work of the office over the past six years to determine a new strategy to promote interculturalism in Dublin. I determined that the best way of doing this was to interview the leaders of Non-Government Organizations that encourage integration and provide support for migrants and refugees. I am currently in the process of interviewing sixteen directors from organizations such as the Africa Centre, Lantern Centre, Immigration Centre and The Integration Centre. My interviews primarily focus on asking the directors questions such as, “how intercultural do you feel Dublin is?” and “what would you like to see done by the Dublin City Council’s Office for Integration to support your cause?” Already, I have observed trends in their responses. Many organizations have expressed interest in wanting to network and collaborate with other NGOs on ideas and events. This gave me the idea of creating a networking site that will allow for multiple organizations to converse on general ideas and event planning. My hope is for this site to become an intercultural hub for these organizations, because I believe this mutual support is extremely beneficial when there are various NGOs working towards a similar goal.
Another project that I plan to propose is the creation of a Dublin City Council hotline to support victims of hate crimes. After attending meetings and forums on integration, it appeared to be a recurring issue that the national government has not done enough in support of this issue. I believe the main reason the government is not fully engaging with the more general integration cause is because they do not perceive it as a significant issue. As I have discovered recently, reporting racism and discrimination to authorities is tedious and complicated. The national government examines the number of police reports of discrimination or hate crimes annually. However, they are getting an inaccurate perception of the frequency of these attacks because many attacks often go unreported. This hotline will enable victims of these occurrences to easily report discrimination or hate crimes. With the help of media outlets and NGOs, I hope to publicize this number. My aim is that the government will have another source to look at when evaluating the amount of racist or discriminatory occurrences that take place in Dublin.
My visit to Áras an Uachtaráin (“The Irish White House”) to meet the president of Ireland has undoubtedly been the highlight of my DukeEngage experience thus far. After receiving a tour of the grand estate he calls his home, President Michael Higgins commended the work the Dublin City Council is doing towards making Ireland a culturally rich and diverse society. He said that immigrants coming into Ireland are here to stay; therefore, we need to engage in the process of making them feel at home. While I admired his words, I realized, after speaking with the housekeepers of Áras an Uachtaráin, that Ireland is still very much struggling—as are we in the United States—to become the country he envisions. The Irish-born housekeepers felt as if they were foreigners in their own country because of the rapid increase in immigration. They then went on to claim that “those people” will steal your belongings and run away, and that Ireland is not the place it used to be. I was amazed by these statements and felt that they chose to ignore the benefits that immigration brings. The contrasting views of the President and his staff made me realize the importance of the work in which I am involved.
Challenges for Migrant Children
It’s hard to believe we only have a week left!
Working at Educate Together this summer has been one of the most rewarding, challenging, and engaging experiences I’ve ever had. Every day, I feel like I learn something new about my colleagues, or about Ireland, and I’m constantly reminded why we’re doing what we are, and what makes DukeEngage Dublin different from a study abroad program or a vacation in Ireland.
Gayle and I are preparing two case studies regarding significant events in Educate Together’s history. One of them involves Educate Together’s fight against racism and discrimination within Irish education. Educate Together opens multi-denominational schools across Ireland as an alternative to the traditionally Catholic-dominated public school system. In theory, Ireland guarantees the right for all parents to choose any educational institution they want for their children; however, over 91% of all primary schools in Ireland are controlled by the Catholic church, making this right an idealized reality at best (and a blatant mistruth at worst). In addition, religiously-backed schools are allowed to discriminate based on religion when schools don’t have enough spaces available. As most migrants usually aren’t Catholic, migrant children are usually the first to be refused school places in instances of shortages. In this way, Ireland’s educational system intrinsically encourages racism. In 2007, Balbriggan, a rapidly-growing region about 20 miles outside of downtown Dublin, faced school shortages when over 100 migrant children couldn’t get school places. Educate Together was approached to open an emergency school in three weeks and accepted the challenge. However, the demographic makeup of the school attracted international media attention; every single one of the children unable to get school places was black. The event brought the issue of Irish educational discrimination to an international audience and helped establish Educate Together as the fixture in Irish education it is today.
The other event we are documenting is Educate Together’s campaign to open secondary schools. While the organization has been a major player in the development and operation of several primary schools, Educate Together had not yet been given permission to operate a secondary school until now. Our job is to document and create an interactive timeline for the entire process: from the first rumblings of an Educate Together secondary school in 1998 to the ultimate opening of their first secondary schools 14 months from now. This is a very exciting time to be a part of Educate Together; unlike our other project, this case is developing as we speak and it’s really interesting to see Educate Together’s secondary campaign finally come to fruition. This summer alone, Gayle and I have been lucky to have attended several events surrounding this process. We’ve already gotten to meet the architects of one of the secondary schools and discuss innovative ways in which the organization is utilizing building design to promote their multi-denominational approach, attend a community meeting where potential parents and pupils could question those involved, and witness firsthand the recruitment process for the new principal position at one of the schools. In this way, we are witnessing Educate Together make history as it happens.
Both of our projects are wrapping up and will be completed within the next few days. It’s been really humbling to see all of the support and encouragement the office has given us throughout this process; the gratitude from everyone is really palpable and it really makes you think about just how important our contribution is and how much it means to the organization. Paul (Educate Together CEO) and Emer (Educate Together COO) have both been really great about making us feel like a part of the Educate Together family throughout our time in Dublin. Hearing everyone talk about how important their work is to them and realizing that this is their lifetime passion really puts the work we’re trying to do in perspective.
As a group project, we all have been working with the Irish Department of Health Services Unit for Separated Children. We have teamed up with unaccompanied minor refugees to learn more about Dublin’s history and culture together. I’m really excited to go rock climbing with the kids on Wednesday—I think it’s something that will be really unique for all of us to do together and I really enjoy interacting with them. Through this trip, I’ve learned that sometimes the best way to help someone who isn’t as fortunate as you is to just treat them as equals and respect them as another individual. Sometimes that’s all you need, and I think that’s one of the biggest takeaways I’ve gotten this summer.
We’ll see you soon USA!
Go n-éirí leat!
Irish attitudes toward immigration
After being in Dublin for several weeks , I have started to really contemplate what we have seen, done, heard, and spoke of during our stay.
My first realization is general: I have come to believe that people often go through life without thinking; they never wonder about the people around them and always accept the events that occur around them as banal. My time in Dublin has put me at odds with this nonchalance. As a group, we have engaged ourselves in looking at life through an analytical lens, tackling migration and integration in Ireland. My own interpretation has been shaped by the experience of a new city in a small country. Walking around the streets of Dublin, I see a civic-minded, entrepreneurial culture radiating opportunity. There are countless independent eateries and shops, produce vendors advertising their goods, hopeful musicians playing on Grafton Street, charity shops supporting Enable Ireland and Oxfam, young adults canvassing for Amnesty International, and tourists adding volume to the crowded streets. It is in this environment that we have discussed migration with Irish citizens and foreign nationals, and have had the opportunity to work with organizations that support migrant rights, facilitate communication, and promote interculturalism.
These conversations have sometimes revealed attitudes of indifference or resentment toward migrants. For example, an Englishman living and working in Ireland, to whom another student had spoken, attributed resentment toward immigrants to competition for jobs. It was his opinion that immigration into Ireland was not a positive phenomenon. The other attitude that we have commonly encountered is more relaxed. A Moroccan waiter, to whom a fellow Duke student and I spoke, said that there are so many Irish people moving elsewhere for work that they have no place to say anything about migrants coming in. His attitude was reiterated by an Irish man that we met last week.
These responses have raised a host of questions and have made me believe more strongly in the work we are doing this summer. This brings me to my second realization. Although we have encountered some stories of hatred and racist attitudes, there is much support for intercultural dialogue and migrants’ rights. In speaking with two people from a Mosque in Dublin, we heard accounts of how some Muslims are coming to feel at home in Ireland. It seems to me, taking into account economic issues as well as the recentness of immigration into Ireland, that the existence of the Dublin City Council Office for Integration and organizations such as Educate Together and New Communities Partnership means that the Irish government, civilians, and naturalized citizens are going to “get it right.” I imagine this meaning, at least, a diverse school system, and an attitude of welcome and interest rather than indifference.
In comparison to the United States, I think of Ireland in terms of its scale, its accessibility, and its style of civic engagement. It is not everywhere that you will have the chance to meet the equivalent of the Lord Mayor of Dublin or the President of Ireland (as Neal, one of my fellow students did), and witness an anti-abortion protest within the same month. I may be naïve, coming to Ireland from a country as big as the United States, but I see a young country of roughly four and a half million, where exposure and education about different cultures is increasing. To me, change seems possible.
Perceptions of Race
I stepped onto the bus, bus pass in hand, shoulder bag in another, with a mindset ready for work. The morning that had been going smoothly for me was then briefly interrupted by a beeping noise from a rejected bus pass. I showed the driver my pass, expecting to be waived on, as all other Dublin bus-drivers typically did, and was instead asked a series of questions:
“How long have you been using this pass?”
“Since Monday, just this past Monday.” I stumbled, being caught off-guard by the question.
He chuckled with skepticism but proceeded by marking my pass with a date.
He returned my card and I began to walk towards the back when he asked me,
“So where are you from?” He was curious about my accent. I responded,
“America; North Carolina” to which his nature suddenly changed from skepticism to admiration. He proceeded excitedly,
“You are like those sisters—Venus and Serena! Do you watch tennis?”
What followed was an interesting, unexpected conversation on my way to work, as the driver began to ask me more about my stay in Dublin and recommended places I should visit as well as his life as an Irish native.
As I reflect on my stay here in Dublin, this experience remains strong in my memory. Perhaps this is because within that fifteen minute conversation lie a series of questions, misunderstandings, blurred boundaries, and confusion. As I have spent the last six weeks in Dublin understanding issues surrounding migrant and refugee communities, interculturalism, integration, health care, and more, I believe that as a black American woman, my perspective on these topics has been unique as I have struggled with, embraced, and questioned the norms which I have found myself quickly adjusting to.
Within that brief bus situation, I picked up on several different things that have consistently occurred during my stay in Dublin. Throughout many of my experiences in Dublin, I have often been mistaken for a migrant, and though my American accent seems to be convincing some that I am not, for others it is not convincing enough. There have been so many times when I have been asked where I am from by people of all races and ethnicities, then asked where my parents are from, followed by being asked where my grandparents came from—all questions to which I could give the dissatisfying answer that no, I do not know where my African roots lie. Yes, I am only American. I thought about my experiences in America of being asked where I am from, and my responses only included American states—there were never any further questions. Yet, during this trip to Dublin, I was puzzled by the seeming dissatisfaction of those who could not link me to a non-Western culture. I began to wonder how migrant communities who were no longer “migrants” but Irish citizens must feel; I thought about a young man I met from the Islamic cultural center whose roots were Libyan but who had been born in Ireland. I remember him telling me that although he had lived here all his life, he felt as though he did not belong.
During my encounter with the bus driver and throughout my stay in Dublin, I have noticed how quickly the demeanor of a person will change when he or she finds out that I am not African but that I am American. There is usually a more positive, friendly reaction when people find out that I am not “staying.” One day towards the beginning of this trip, my peers and I had the chance to attend a World Refugee Day event in Dun Laoghaire. After the event, I met a couple of the artists who had performed, specifically two girls who had sung during the performance. Our conversation shifted to talking about racial issues in Dublin, and when I mentioned to them how odd and confused I felt about changing reactions to me, they both responded to me by saying, “Imagine you had to live here with that all the time.” I thought about how complex issues of interculturalism could be in Dublin; it was something beyond race. Those here who treated me differently when finding out my nationality were looking at something beyond my skin color; something that may have included skin color as well as other factors.
Last, but certainly not least, even the small reference to Venus and Serena struck me as significant, as I have found that women of color in American are perceived quite differently around the world, including Ireland. What comes to mind when asking different communities about their past perceptions of black American women (before meeting me) included a range of figures—a huge spectrum from Rihanna (who had performed at the Aviva stadium not too long ago), to the first lady (who had just given a speech at the Riverdance), to music videos that do not portray black women in the most positive light, to Venus and Serena. What was most interesting to me is that this image came to the mind of the bus driver when he met me—despite my totally out-of-shape non-tennis body. During the scavenger hunt with my partner who was a part of the Separate Children’s Division, I remember him telling me that he could not believe that I was American based on the fact that I was not loud and crazy and I seemed “too chill” from what he saw of black women on television.
Part of the reason why I chose to focus on my perspective as a black American woman in Ireland is that my identity here has transcended so many more boundaries than it ever has before. My race screams “migrant” while my accent screams “American” and my demeanor confuses as I come here not as a celebrity or a back-up dancer for some hip hop music video, but just an American university student trying to understand causes and effects of migration in Ireland. As I explained this to one of my co-workers (this feeling of not belonging to a particular category), he seemed to be uncomfortable with my observations—he did not want to agree with me yet his response in many ways reinforced what I have seen; he stated,
As a woman, you do have certain people that you do not want to talk to or hang around. You don’t question their race, you question what things they do. You just don’t have the vibe for certain types of people…It’s the same way [when you look at the relationship between native Irish and migrants]. It’s not race. It has nothing to do with being Chinese or black. The amazement comes because you don’t bring the fear and frustration that many of the Africans bring, because you were raised in a different environment. It’s all about how you were raised. Some Africans I avoid…not because they come from there, but more-so because there is a clash of cultures. You (he pointed to me) think they think you are more like them; but the minute you start speaking they are confused because they already have set up in their mind how Africans behave.
I was surprised but at the same time not completely bewildered by my co-worker’s statements. My experiences in Ireland have in many ways reflected the complexities that still exist here around incorporation of difference in Dublin. I have really enjoyed my stay here as it has not only opened up challenges around migration that have touched me personally, but has also opened up a realm of potential and possibility.
New Communities Partnership
In my time with Dublin’s New Communities Partnership (NCP), I’ve had the chance to work on everything from a citizenship support service to the launch of a social enterprise that could be described as cycling-centered, though it truly defies description.
As a community advocacy organization, one of NCP’s major roles is to ensure that migrants are represented and heard in local affairs. Recently, I’ve been working on a report concerning a Council of Europe convention on the same subject—the Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level, which guarantees basic political rights to all people, urges local councils to represent migrant voices, and secures for foreigners the right to vote in local elections. We want to convince Ireland to ratify the Convention, which was drafted in 1989 but failed to gain traction despite an initial show of support from the national government.
What I find most interesting about the project is that NCP is essentially arguing that Ireland is already complying with each and every element of the Convention. But it has, nevertheless, refused to ratify the Convention. If we accept that to be true, and based on the evidence I have it is, then it follows that there is something desirable in ratification, taken on its own: the Irish government’s open statement in support of the principles enumerated in the Convention.
That is where things get strange. As an American university student, and especially one who is studying political science, I am used to approaching problems through a clear theoretical framework. No matter how hands-on the project, even when designing a real world intervention programme, professors urge us to remember the theoretical underpinning of our plans. How, then, do I justify a top-down approach (adopting a Council of Europe convention) that advocates for a bottom-up solution (representation of migrants at the local level)?
Doesn’t one have to be right? Don’t we effectively pursue integration either by a) top-down mandates or b) bottom-up solutions?
Admittedly, I’m being a little unimaginative here. There is probably a theoretical justification out there for the combination of the two approaches. But I can guarantee that nobody at NCP, no matter how smart and effective, has mapped it out. And this contrast serves as a clear illustration. Right now in Ireland, theoretical elegance seems like a luxury. NCP and organisations like it do whatever they can, whether unified or not, in an effort to do something that works.
Working with Metro Éireann
Tomorrow, the eight of us who came to Dublin this summer will return home. Amidst a frenzy of packing, accompanied by sad songs courtesy of Sam and outbursts of “Are you trying to make me CRY, Sam?” by Brandee, it’s impossible to fend off the inescapable sadness that comes with ending an experience as incredible as this one.
It’s impossible to know what long-term effects this summer will have on each of us. For me, part of it will be memories of the office where I worked: Metro Éireann, Ireland’s first (and only) multicultural newspaper. Chinedu, the editor, welcome me and two other interns into the office in his own unique style. Each day at work we interviewed everyone from ambassadors to immigrants to Pentecostal pastors, wrote stories on racist comments made by Italian ministers and on attending citizenship ceremonies, copy edited and took pictures. And then there were the parts of the job that couldn’t be predicted: learning how to settle a debate with a cheating printer Chinedu-style (which means yell a little but mostly “be cool” while the offending party yells); fielding phone calls from angry, misled Irish mothers condemning an editorial piece and “the fact that Irish welfare only goes to immigrants,” before accusing you of having bad English due to close-minded preconceptions of a multicultural newspaper. It’s the memory of Chinedu calling when he was out of the office to remind us to take our break, or let us know not to take any schtick from a rude Kenyan ambassador.
It’s memories of making friends with the separated children we regularly did activities with: from the first, awkward Viking Cruise (a city tour that involves a lot of yelling and a little maritime adventure) to rock climbing in our last week, where we laughed until near tears as first Irene, then Brandee hung suspended from a rappelling rope, screeching at the top of their lungs barely seven feet from the ground.
It’s the difference between walking down Grafton street (the most famous shopping area in Dublin and a top tourist destination) at the beginning of the trip, when I felt like a tourist from head to toe and stopped to watch nearly every single street performer, and walking down Grafton street at the end of the trip, when I had learned to weave through the crowds like the rest of the Irish and recognized nearly every performer from my daily commute. It’s filling in a map of Dublin with all the tangible, incredible places we went for lunch, for dinner, for interviews or for sightseeing.
When we get on our planes on August 4 to return to our respective homes, be it North Carolina, California, or New York, we may leave Dublin behind for now, but all these bits and pieces will be packed into our suitcases, forever with us.