Metro Eireann

 
As part of Kenan’s Irish Migration Project, former DukeEngage students Christine Delp (2012) and Nicole Antoine (2013) worked for Ireland’s only multicultural newspaper, Metro Eireann, focusing on migrant issues. Read their published articles below.

Ballymun to pilot European Youth Guarantee scheme

Dublin MEP Emer Costello held a public seminar recently to discuss the selection of Ballymun in north Dublin as a European pilot project for the European Youth Guarantee (EYG) scheme.

The EYG is a European-wide initiative from the Party of European Socialists (PES) that targets areas in Europe with a higher than 25 per cent youth unemployment rate.

The scheme is scheduled to commence next year and will receive €6bn in funding from the EU.

Intended to “ensure that every young person in Europe is offered a job, further education or work-focused training at the latest four months after leaving education or after becoming unemployed,” according to its mission statement, the ultimate goal of the scheme is to half unemployment among 15-24-year-olds in Europe by 2020.

Ballymun went under consideration for the project in October last, when Costello visited the Ballymun Jobs Centre, followed by a visit from the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee.

Costello commented on the large number of young people in Dublin who are out of work – currently registered at over 17,000 – and called for up to a third of the estimated €150m earmarked for the guarantee pilot to go to the greater Dublin area.

She added that she felt the pilot project would “provide a major boost to the Ballymun Regeneration Project, ensuring a degree of social regeneration will take place.”

The Dublin MEP organised the seminar as a roundtable discussion where grassroots groups and individuals could learn about and contribute to the drawing up of plans for the pilot scheme in Ballymun.

Guests at the seminar included Mick Creedon, manager of the Ballymun Job Centre; James Doorley, deputy director of the National Youth Council of Ireland; Ita Mangan, a barrister with specialties in welfare law and citizen rights; Siptu researcher Loraine Mulligan; Mary P Murphy, lecturer in Irish politics at NUI Maynooth; Brid O’Brien, INOU head of policy and media; Lidia Salvatore, research officer with the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions; and David Treacy, education officer with the City of Dublin Education and Training Board.

Drogheda’s Igbo union celebrates a decade of outreach

The Igbo Union of Drogheda celebrated its 10th anniversary with a party and awards ceremony on Saturday 29 June.

The union’s work includes charity within the community and advocating for local people, educating members on Igbo heritage, and providing courses to assist people from ethnic minorities to settle in the Co Louth town, said member Medua Okonkwo.

“Among our aims was to make an effort to bring our children together and to try and improve and educate them on our language, our culture, our traditions,” added union president Ignatius Chukwurah.

However, budget constraints and a busy membership have presented challenges for the socio-cultural group, which traces its roots to Igboland in southeast Nigeria

“You know, the country we’re in, everyone is struggling to survive,” said Chukwurah. “So it can be a struggle to meet our own family commitments and to get all the members together. And financially nothing is easy. So sometimes it is difficultt for us to meet our obligations.

“We are supposed to have a place of meeting, [but] because of financial constraints, it becomes difficult to hold our meetings. So we keep moving our meetings from one house to another. We still meet in members’ homes because we cannot get a place of our own.”

But despite these challenges, Chukwurah feels the union has been able to “come through them”. Both Chukwuruh and Okonkwo cited a successful fundraiser for Drogheda Homeless Aid.

“It went well, and we want to use that as a stepping stone to improve further reaching out to the community,” said Chukwurah, “and then if we are able to get more members and have enough funds, we are looking to have a community hall where other services can be rendered.”

More than 300 people gathered to celebrate a decade of Igbo community outreach in Drogheda and look forward to another 10 years.

The plan for the immediate future, said Chukwurah, is “to see how we can improve in bringing our children to understand our culture better and to be able to reach out to the community by participating in community services.”

New citizens express their delight at Ireland’s largest oath ceremony

Some 4,400 immigrants swore an oath of fidelity to the State and received their Irish citizenship on 4 July 2013.

Some 4,400 immigrants swore an oath of fidelity to the State and received their Irish citizenship on 4 July 2013.

The inductions took place in four separate citizenship ceremonies at the Dublin Convention Centre, with 1,100 candidates from over 100 different countries sworn in at each.

The celebratory ceremony was introduced only two years ago by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter “to give proper recognition to the importance of the granting of Irish citizenship”.

Prior to the introduction of the new ceremony, taking the oath of citizenship was a practical affair conducted in a courtroom.

The final ceremony of the day on 4 July marked the 73rd ceremony to be held since their introduction – not to mention the largest number of candidates to be inducted in a single day.

Each ceremony was a short but solemn affair, introduced with music from the Garda Band and a military guard display along with several speakers, including a keynote from Minister Shatter, retired Justice Bryan McMahon and Judge Rosemary Horgan, president of the District Court, who served as presiding officers on the day.

One of those who received his citizenship on the day was Jairus Jose, who moved to Ireland from the Philippines six years ago. After a year of waiting for his application to be processed, he expressed a satisfaction that was along with the running theme of the day.

“It’s wonderful,” he said, “it means more opportunities for me. A better life.”

Happy friends and family

As Jose and other candidates took the collective citizenship oath, thousands of happy and expectant friends and family members observed from the upper levels of the auditorium.

Abdul Latif, an immigrant from Bangladesh and an Irish citizen since 2008, stood among the audience with his small daughter, waiting to watch his wife Farhana Haque take her oath and receive her  citizenship.

“The waiting was the worst,” said Jose, whose wife had waited five years for citizenship before the process was sped up two years ago. “We are very excited. [Spouses often] come here as dependents; they are qualified but can’t work. Her language is fine; she was a teacher at home, she is certified in child minding and English courses, but she couldn’t get a work permit. And now she is free to work.”

Nichodemus Ozoemena Ugwu, a doctor who emigrated from Nigeria in 2006, also received his citizenship.

“From today on, I’ve become an Irish citizen,” he said. “I can contribute – I hope to play my own part in helping to nurture the society and diversity.

“I only hope my family will get it soon as well,” he added.

US First Lady Michelle Obama has inspiring words for Irish schoolkids

It was all about the young people at the Gaiety Theatre on 17 June.

“Kids, you guys, young people, you guys have my heart,” said US First Lady Michelle Obama to the children gathered at the Gaiety Theatre for a special performance of River-dance.

“You guys move me in ways that you don’t even imagine,” she continued. “So it was so important for us that while we were here that we got to do something with the young people here in Dublin.”

It was equally important to the young people and their parents who gathered to see her. Many – including the 30 in attendance with Metro Éireann tickets – had waited for more than four hours to catch a glimpse of the First Lady.

Listening to Michelle Obama speak was inspirational for Grace Obot, who was at the event with her son. “When she talked to us, she knew she wouldn’t lose [our interest], when she mentioned, ‘You can be president tomorrow, you can be first lady tomorrow, you can be anything tomorrow, but you have to start now, you have to work now, you have to plan out what you want to achieve now, and you have to believe in yourself.’ That was a good message for all of us and for the children,” said Obot.

As a mother and a role model, Mary Wokocha identified with the First Lady on a personal level. “I think I connect with her so much because she is a woman of substance,” she said. “[Obama] is a mother, she loves the idea of children working harder and growing to become something in life, and because she uses herself as an example, using her background to show how hard she worked to be where she is today.”

The key points in the First Lady’s speech, such as working hard and never giving up, struck a chord with many young people in attendance.

Tatenda Madondo, a 15-year-old student, said that after the event was over she overheard other kids talking about how influential the First Lady was.

“The most memorable part was probably the advice she gave us, about letting our imagination take us to the place we most want to go, and that we should think big and dream big and then we can do anything we want,” said Madondo.

“Her advice has continued to motivate me to work hard in school at my studies. I know that she is a lawyer and that is something I want to be as well, so it has encouraged me to study harder and do well in exams.”

Although fairly unfamiliar with the Obamas before the event, student Lisa Phiri left the Gaiety with a new appreciation for the First Lady.

“The way she said to pick yourself up when you fall down, I liked that part of her speech because not many people would say that,” said Phiri.

The First Lady concluded her speech by looking to the futures of the children in the room. “I can’t wait to see who you all become,” she said.

After the event Wokocha said that Michelle Obama’s words had a very positive effect on her children.

“[Obama] is a really great motivation for our children,” she said. “The key point they took was that working hard is the only way out, the only way to become something in life.” 

Taking ‘baby steps’ towards gender equality

Hauwa Ibrahim took part in a roundtable discussion with the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) on Thursday 20 June. 

The discussion was one of a series of events the Nigerian human rights lawyer attended in Dublin as part of her tour as the 2005 winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

After a brief introduction to her work in northern Nigeria and abroad, Ibrahim opened the discussion to the small group gathered, with attention turning specifically to the feminist aspects of her work.

Laura Maloney, project development worker of the NCWI’s ‘Y-Factor’ project, queried Ibrahim as to the reaction of women’s movements worldwide, and in Nigeria, to her work within and around a legal system that Ibrahim herself described as “sounding difficult, strange, and barbaric” to outsiders.

While Ibrahim said she found solidarity in many places abroad – such as a strong rally by South African women – the women of northern Nigeria gave little support. In fact, the Federation of Islamic Women Organisation condemned her, accusing her of interpreting Islam “sensationally”.

Ibrahim believes the lack of female support in the region corresponds to a lack of education, citing a female literacy rate of just 20 per cent, compared to 80 per cent in southern parts of the country.

“When you are not educated, you are easy to persuade. You will believe things [that are] obviously untrue,” she said.

When asked about her own feminist leanings, Ibrahim said that opinion towards gender equality is changing slowly in Nigeria, despite asserting that to use the word ‘feminism’ in Nigeria would “ruin us”.

Ibrahim stressed the need to work together towards gender equality, regardless of individual differences.

“The more visible women, and there are increasingly visible women in Nigeria, the better,” she said. “Nobody can shine alone and shine properly. A lone star casts little light; more light is always better.”

The other roundtable participants were particularly interested in Ibrahim’s interpretation of Sharia law, which has been criticised for its strong patriarchal biases and its implementation against women.

“It’s incredible, using that which oppresses us to set us free,” said Maloney, referring to Ibrahim’s commitment to acquitting women and furthering their rights via Sharia principles.

Others remarked at the end that they would also consider the possibility of seeking equality within existing systems, rather than fighting against them.

“I fight my cases with knowledge, not sentiment,” said Ibrahim. “We are taking baby steps, getting there gradually.”

1 in 5 tested gay men have STDs - report

One in five men who used the HSE Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS) clinic for STD testing in 2012 received a diagnosis of gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV or syphilis, according to the service’s latest statistics.

The 2012 report was published on 21 June at the launch of the 11th annual Gay Health Forum, known as the GHF 11, organised by the GMHS and the Gay Health Network with the support of the Department of Health, the National AIDS Strategy Committee and the HSE National Office for Social Inclusion.

According to the report, demand for clinic services increased by 20 per cent for people aged 24 or younger from 2011 to 2012.

The same period saw a five per cent increase in first time attendees, while HIV testing increased by 39 per cent, and positive diagnoses of gonorrhea, HIV and syphilis increased by 43, 37 and 22 per cent respectively. Cases of chlamydia decreased from 2011.

The GMHS is aimed at men who have sex with men (MSM) as a key group for clinic services. The Man2Man National HIV and Sexual Health awareness programme attempts to reach to this audience by promoting social inclusion and access to information for harder-to-reach groups.

Such groups include the 37 per cent of clinic attendees in 2012 who were born abroad and the 17 per cent who reside outside Dublin city.

In light of the recently released annual report, HSE head of health promotion Nazih Eldin said it “builds on the work of the Man2Man programme in promoting STI screening among young MSM, with an emphasis on younger men and men living outside of main urban centres.

“Rates for STIs and HIV are higher among new attendees so this highlights the need for continued access to testing for this group.”

The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) By Harry Browne (Verso)

In Harry Browne’s book, The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power), he rips the U2 singer apart piece by piece.

In Harry Browne’s book, The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power), he rips the U2 singer apart piece by piece.

Browne sets the scene in the prologue: “For nearly three decades as a public figure, and especially in this century, Bono has been, more often than not, amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor, and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful. He has been generating and reproducing ways of seeing the developing world, especially Africa, that are no more than a slick mix of traditional missionary and commercial colonialism, in which the poor world exists as a task for the rich world to complete.”

At one point, Browne does touch on the benefits from Bono’s philanthropy and advocacy work, reflecting upon the varied and polarised responses to Bono. “There is no doubt some of his campaigning and the work of the organisations he supports have improved the lives, health, and well-being of many people in Africa,” he writes. The majority of the book, however, presents a negative depiction of Bono and his endeavours.

In the first section of his book, titled ‘Ireland’, Browne discusses Bono’s history in Ireland, the perceptions of his background and his conscious manipulation of that perception. He also details Bono’s role as a major player during and after the Celtic Tiger.

In the next section, ‘Africa’, he addresses Bono’s commercial exploits, arguing that Bono has used Africa to further promote his own fame, without tackling or acknowledging the complexity of the continent and its various problems.

Browne cites the concert Live Aid, which was intended to raise funds for the Ethiopian famine in 1985, as an example of Bono’s egomania. “If it were not for the familiar dark silhouette of Africa on the stage backdrop, you could not differentiate this from any other performance…. The only significant ad lib was ‘We are so sick of it.’”

The third section, The World, analyses the remainder of Bono’s career, including his multinational business interests and his interference in other political issues such as G8 summits and the Iraqi invasion.

At no point does Browne relent in his harsh critique of Bono’s actions and his assumed motivations. As Browne puts it, “anything that might ever have been good or real about Bono has become corrupted and [so] of the relationship between the west and the global south he has come to ‘represent’.”

Irish Student Immigration to the United States

Irish students living in the United States cite greater opportunities for employment as the primary reason for studying and possibly remaining in the US after graduation, despite strong emotional ties to Ireland.

Ciaran Redmond, 19, was 11 when his parents, Paul and Anne Redmond, moved from their homes in Co Wexford to Hollywood, Florida.

“My dad’s job is in biomedical engineering,” said Redmond. “The move to the US was a better option.”

Redmond’s family spent four years in Florida before moving to Trabuco Canyon, California, where they still reside today. Somewhere along the way Redmond lost his Irish accent, which he described as “regrettable,” although he and his family still maintain their Irish culture in other ways.

“We still eat Irish foods and celebrate different holidays more like an Irish family,” said Redmond.

The Redmond family also returns to Ireland on average every two years to visit family. None of their other relatives live in the United States. The Redmond family was initially permitted to immigrate to the US on a work visa. Now they are beginning the application process for American citizenship, although they intend to retain their Irish citizenship.

Redmond is currently a second-year student at Chapman University in southern California, where he is studying film. Because the availability of jobs in the film industry in so much higher in America than in Ireland, he thinks his future career path will limit his ability to return to his native land. However, when asked whether he identifies as American or Irish, he replied, “Definitely Irish. My experiences in Ireland have shaped me.”

Floyd Jackson, although a more recent immigrant to the United States from Ireland, has similar motivations for migration despite nostalgia for Ireland as Redmond. Jackson completed his undergraduate degree at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and a doctorate at the University of Durham before moving to the United States for a postdoctoral position at Harvard University. He is studying astrophysics.

Jackson’s move to the United States to continue his university education is a common story. When asked about to comment on working with Americans, Jackson replied, “I can’t really comment on the people. I work mostly with immigrants, especially Europeans.”

Many European academic immigrants, like Jackson, come to the United States because there are a larger number of positions at American universities and greater opportunities and grants for research in their particular fields. “The UK has taken a lot of money out of its (astrophysics and astronomy) programs,” said Jackson. “My particular area of work is with X-rays, and there are many more post-doctoral programs and jobs available in the US.”

Jackson enjoys some aspects of his new life in America. “I like to travel and see new places and America is full of new places to see,” said Jackson, who recently travelled to New York for the first time. But he is still getting used to other characteristics of American life. “The food is different. There is a lot more of it!”

Jackson has not applied for American citizenship because is unsure of how long he will be staying in the United States. In addition to working at Harvard, he has the opportunity to do research at the University of Toledo in Ohio, so he will probably be living in the United States for a few years. Eventually, Jackson hopes to find a professorship.

“I will remain Irish and proud,” said Jackson. “But I don’t know whether I will stay here in the US or go back to Ireland. It depends on where the money is.”

Published in Metro Éireann 15 September 2012. Republished with permission.

A poor attempt at integration

The Riverdance I saw recently in Dublin was not anything like the Riverdance on Broadway I saw as a kid. Although performed by two different companies, in the eleven years since I was first mesmerized by the quick steps, elaborate costumes, and bouncy hair of the performers, in many ways the production of the show is all grown up, tailored to a generation with short attention spans. Dramatic lighting, music, and fog all kept the attention of an audience that had probably been wowed by the graphics of the newest Batman movie the night before.

Riverdance has always been known to be a bit kitschy, and these added special effects did nothing but add to this reputation. But the dancing was absolutely fantastic, and so although I had to smother a few smirks during the ridiculously histrionic verbal narrations, such silly artistic indulgences were excusable.

What was not excusable was the show’s poor attempt at racial integration.

Amidst the cast of smiling blondes were two black male dancers with an enormous amount of talent and charisma. However, their star qualities were undermined by the absurdity of the show’s storyline and the roles in which they were cast.

I did not expect to see any minorities in an Irish production of Riverdance, and so when one of the black dancers first appeared on the stage shortly after intermission, I was pleasantly surprised. This surprise soon turned to confusion and discomfort as I realized this man was singled out from the other performers in costume and placement, and was singing through his first appearance in the show about freedom with none other than a large ship projected in the background—a rather awkward comparison between the Irish and African slaves’ journeys to America.

After the slavery dance came a jazzy tap-dancing number with only the two black dancers again that seemed to be a nod to 1920s Harlem. The climax was the reappearance of the white Irish male dancers, who with the black dancers, took turns showing off their moves and mimicking those of the opposing group in a sort-of racial dance-off before both groups happily danced together—the production’s approach to integration, I presume, that, in actuality, severely backfired.

Having grown up heavily exposed to the remnants of the American South’s racially-turbulent history, even as a white girl, it is probably true that I am more actively conscious of all things racially-tinged than many white people in Ireland. It is also likely that others, and not just Irish, might find my objection to Riverdance’s portrayal of these two men as slaves and Harlemites a giant overreaction to a racism that obviously couldn’t have been in a production that had black people playing historically black characters.

But something doesn’t have to be maliciously or even consciously discriminatory to be offensive. I do not believe that the producers purposefully portrayed the two black dancers negatively; in fact, they were quite the stars of the show. However, they were not stars entirely because of their dazzling talent or because they were the two principle dancers, but also because they played a special, segregated role. These dancers were cast in roles as part of a storyline that didn’t quite fit into the traditional themes of a Riverdance production, as if to haphazardly “integrate” Riverdance without actually integrating Riverdance.

The white Irish-black dance-off, as well as the final dance with the entire cast before curtain, proved that these men could certainly perform the traditional Irish dances in addition to the less-traditional tap-dancing as well or even better than the white Irish dancers. So I hope that the next time I see Riverdance, black and other minority dancers will be actually be integrated members of the cast of traditional Irish dancers, rather than, probably in a temporary lapse of unintentional ignorance, not being cast into the actual traditional Riverdance crew because of their race.

Published in Metro Éireann 15 August 2012. Republished with permission.

Ramadan brings Ireland’s Islamic community together

Friday night Iftar meals at the Dublin’s Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh are standing room only.

From July 20 to August 18, as the sun sets, Muslims around the world gather to break the daily fast of the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan. On weekend evenings in many mosques around Dublin, prayers and Iftar meals are taken as an Islamic community.

The Islamic community is experiencing rapid growth in Ireland. According to the Central Statistics Office, between 2006 and 2011, the number of Muslims in Ireland increased 51.2 per cent, bringing the Muslim population to almost 50,000, or about 1 per cent of Ireland’s total population.

The number of mosques in Dublin have increased significantly to keep up with the demand, and other mosques have been built around Ireland, including in Cork and Galway.

Although Ramadan is a community-based holy month, the budding Islamic community in Ireland is extremely close throughout the year. “You have to be involved in the community,” said a man at the Islamic Cultural Centre who asked to remain nameless. “The work doesn’t end if you are a part of the community.”

Citing football, tae kwon do, and swimming leagues as programs sponsored by the mosque for Muslim children, he continued, “It’s a way to keep (the children) connected to the shelter.”

Although fasting is perhaps the most widely distinguishable characteristic of Ramadan to persons outside the Islamic faith, to the Islamic community, Ramadan fasting is about so much more than simply not eating or drinking.

The fasting focuses Muslims on their daily prayers, and Ramadan includes a few additional daily prayers. “Extra prayers are added so people have more time to have a relationship with God,” said Imran Ahmed, 32, press secretary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association. “This brings people closer to God.”

Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, instructs Muslims to practice charity. The Zakat requirement becomes even more crucial during Ramadan fasting, explains Sheikh Umar Al-Qadri, Imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Educational and Cultural Centre in Blanchardstown. “Charity increases because fasting makes (Muslims) aware of people around the world who are hungry and thirsty.”

Al-Qadri is quick to add that many religions, including Christianity and Judaism, have a fasting component. He explores the connections between Islamic fasting and Christian fasting in greater detail in a recently published article in The Irish Catholic.

Samir Shirin, Imam of the Milltown mosque, explained, “Iftar has a spiritual, social and gastronomical sides to it. It is a good time for the community to come together, highly recommended to break the fast with other people.”

Because of Ireland’s northern latitude, when Ramadan falls during the summer months, long daylight hours can prove challenging for the sun-up to sun-down fasting schedule requirement. Experts of Islam meet to interpret and discuss such issues, and sometimes make allowances. But Ahmed also explained that because of the shifting calendar for Ramadan, the different seasonal and weather challenges different locations face are generally equalized; for example, Sahara desert regions might have shorter fasting days than Dublin in the summer, but the hot, dry, weather also proves difficult. “It’s a balance for people all around the world,” said Ahmed.

Overall, fasting during Ramadan encourages Muslims to focus on the ideal behaviours they wish to practise and promote throughout the year, explained Ahmed. “Moral and spiritual values are intensified this month through stricter control. It’s not only that you abstain from eating. You refrain to give more purpose to promoting righteousness. One month is a sort of training.”

Published in Metro Éireann 15 August 2012. Republished with permission.

Opinion: Space programs in Nigeria and Ghana

Recently established space programs in Nigeria and Ghana show promise for improving economic development on the ground, but both nations should reevaluate their programs in order to ensure they are spending most efficiently.

Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency (NSRDA) was founded in 1999 and has since then launched three different satellites into space through work with independent technology company NigComSat.

These satellites can map water and soil availability as well improve communication systems. NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X, launched in August 2011, provide clear images of Nigeria’s agricultural landscape. NigComSat1-R, launched in December 2011, improved wireless internet affordably and coverage for the Nigerian nation, bringing in an estimated $10m in profits.

Nigeria’s newest plans for space-based technology include building three new satellites and a Nigerian in space by 2015. NigeriaSAR-1, a synthetic aperture radar satellite, will be used for security purposes, and will be backed up by NigeriaSAR-2 and NigeriaSAR-3.

Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, Ita Ewa, announced the planned launch of these three satellites in May. He also said, “Before I leave office in 2015, we will send a Nigerian astronaut into space.”

Ghana’s space program, the Ghana Space Science and Technology Center, was founded in May. Although the center only currently has 10 employees, it plans to expand, including setting aside 1 per cent of the nation’s annual GDP to science and technology initiatives with the mission of improving agricultural production, managing natural resources, bettering communications, and enhancing national security monitoring systems.

Even with some gained profits from agriculture and communications, the costs of the satellites are steep.

The cost of NigComSat-1, launched in 2003, was $340m. By 2007 the satellite was shut down after serious malfunctions and the costs of a replacement had to be paid by insurance. With approximately 28 per cent of Ghanaians and 70 per cent of Nigerians below the poverty line, both governments continuously spending large sums on new space projects draws persuasive criticism.

The missions for space programs of the two countries are almost identical: both cite improving systems on the ground—agriculture, national security, communications—as the primary purpose of their space program.

So why not collaborate? It is wasteful for developing nations with similar goals and similar projects in mind to spend enormous amounts of precious funds on different projects, especially when the nations are neighboring and have a stable political relationship.

In May, the United States and Canada announced the completion of negotiations for a five year surveillance satellite deal. This deal serves the national security interests of each nation and is millions of dollars less spent than if the two nations installed separate satellites. During economic recession, such collaborations in research and technology are crucial.

Fiscal growth in Ghana and Nigeria may be booming with both nations in the top ten of the world’s fastest growing economies for 2012, but many economic problems remain before both developing nations can become developed nations. Investment in technologies like satellites and science education has promise for long-term returns, but smart investment often begins with careful spending and practical partnerships.

Published in  Metro Éireann 1 August 2012. Republished with permission.

Unforgettable Day' for Aung San Suu Kyi on first visit to Ireland

More than two thousand people attended a concert in Dublin to honour Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi during her 6 hour visit to Ireland last week. Electric Burma was organised by Amnesty International and featured numerous celebrities who took the stage in praise of the Burmese pro democracy leader. Among them was U2’s frontman Bono, who presented Suu Kyi with Amnesty International’s prestigious Ambassador of Conscience award. Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the past 24 years under house arrest, and her stop in Dublin is part of her first trip to Europe in 24 years.

Outside the Board Gais Energy Theater venue of the concert, thousands more crowded under ominous skies, awaiting Suu Kyi’s appearance at an outdoor event where she accepted Dublin’s own highest honor, the Freedom of the City award. Kyi was awarded the honor in 2000 but was unable to accept it due to house arrest.

It was a day that many of Suu Kyi’s supporters who lined up the streets near the theatre never thought would come. Many of them camped at the venue for hours to make sure they would get a spot near the stage.

“She’s an icon,” said Derek Haughton, 54 one of those who waited several hours, “a person who stands up for moral conscience.” He described her as “a shining light for everyone.”

Mother and daughter Megan McAllister, 20, and Joan McAllister, 55, came to support Aung San Suu Kyi out of respect for Suu Kyi’s fight for human rights. “She’s a gracious lady who has suffered a lot. We should give her a good welcome,” said Joan. Megan added, “It will be interesting to see what future plans she has now that she’s free.”

The event also honoured members of Ireland’s Burmese community, who received VIP treatment at the venue. They waved the flag of their native land in anticipation of Suu Kyi’s appearance, their faces marked with excitement and pride.

Among them was a Burmese woman who asked to be identified only as Su, 38, a doctor who has been living in Ireland for the past 7 years. She recalls seeing Suu Kyi in person before her first house arrest, back in the mid-eighties when Su was a young student. “It means a lot (for Suu Kyi to be in Dublin)—more than you could know,” said Su.

Regarding current Burmese politics, Su states that things have improved, but is quick to add “there is a lot more to be done.”
That was also Aung San Suu Kyi’s message when she took the stage to accept the Freedom of the City. Suu Kyi said that the troubles in Burma are not over. Thanking the people of Ireland for their continuing support for her country, she said, “This will be one of the most unforgettable days of my life.”

Published in Metro Éireann 1 July 2012. Republished with permission. 

Nowhere People shines light on plight of the stateless

Handprints on the walls of an abandoned school, the view from inside a crumbling hut, and the wrinkled hands of an old woman holding a pair of glasses and her expired passport are just some of the haunting images included in Nowhere People, a photo exhibit on display at The Atrium in the Department of Justice till 19 July.

The exhibit, sponsored by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is the product of an award-winning project by American photographer Greg Constantine to document the world’s stateless people since 2005.

According to the UNHCR, there are nearly 12 million people around the world who are classified as ‘stateless’. They do not have a legal national identity, and many are denied basic human rights.

Constantine’s work reflects the concept of stolen identity. In one image from a rural village in Bangladesh, an Urdu-speaking 75-year-old refugee is photographed alone in a pool of light, his outline illuminated but his face hidden in shadows. The memory of this man will never leave Constantine, he says.

“A lot of stateless people are really lost in the shadows. Through these images, I can help show how statelessness affects people in their daily lives.”

Constantine travelled back to Bangladesh two years after photographing the villager to give him a copy of the image.

Members of the Rohingya community, one of the many stateless groups represented in the photographs, were also at the launch of the exhibit. Mohamed Rafique, 30, expressed his hope that the exhibit will rally the international community to put a stop to oppression against his people.

“How many years will the Rohingya people be stateless?” he said. “I hope [viewers of the exhibit] will see the real situation of the Rohingya people.”

Variations of the exhibit have been showed around the world, including at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Reaching a high-level audience with the power to spark change is exactly the hope of Constantine for his images.

“This is about making an invisible condition visible,” he said.

Published in Metro Éireann 15 July 2012. Republished with permission.

IRC launches advocacy pilot programme for separated children

Separated children seeking asylum in Ireland will be provided with a mentor under the Irish Refugee Council’s (IRC) new independent advocacy pilot programme launched on 5 July.

Under the new scheme, mentors will not only assist separated children throughout the asylum process, but will also support them with their transition into Irish culture and society.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald formally launched the Independent Advocacy Pilot and spoke about her confidence in the benefit of the program to separated children.

“These children are alone and frightened, needing our care,” said the minister. “[Advocates] will ensure that children are aware of their rights and entitlements.

“I have no doubt that [the programme] will make a real difference to the lives of individuals.”

Samantha Arnold, children’s and young person’s officer with the IRC, highlighted recent research that “has underlined the importance of one reliable adult figure in a young person’s development.

“This project provides separated children with support and structure from a responsible, trusted adult who will guide them through what is a very lengthy and complicated process and help them adapt to their new communities.”

Although the advocates provide the separated children with information about legal issues surrounding the asylum process, their role as a mentor extends beyond providing formal advice and assistance.

Sarah Barriscale, 23, is one of the six advocates across four counties in the pilot programme. She meets the separated child she mentors once a week for one or two hours to engage in activities they both enjoy, including swimming, bowling and craft classes. Since she became an advocate, she said she has noticed a growth in her own self-confidence. “I just think it’s a completely new perspective,” said Barriscale. “Just to see someone happy over winning a bowling game. It’s the small things

Published Metro Éireann 15 July 2012 

Being White In America

I first discovered the plight of being a white American during a public policy discussion course my freshman year in college.

For introductions on the first day of class, the professor asked the class to describe our individual identities.

A boy two seats to my right spoke first, “I’m half American, half German.” A low murmur of interest drifted among my classmates.

The girl beside me was next. “My mother is Thai and my father is French,” she said. The murmur turned into a few side conversations. I was next.

“I’m a white American.”

The conversations paused. Nobody in the class looked particularly impressed. They just kept their mild smiles and looked to the girl sitting on my left.

“I’m half Korean, half American, and I’ve lived in Japan my whole life,” she said.

The side conversations resumed again. By the end of introductions, over two thirds of my classmates had identified themselves as a dual citizen, ethnic minority, or both.

An unexpected feeling of embarrassment was creeping over me. For the first time in my life, I felt that my identity was boring—I was an unimportant white girl from small-town America in a room full of global citizens.

In the United States today, diversity is extremely important. American institutions and organizations, such as universities and businesses, are no longer selecting diverse populations solely out of any obligation to comply with affirmative action policies. In a rapidly globalising world, persons with multicultural or multi-ethnic backgrounds are valuable because they offer unique perspectives, knowledge, and skills. Furthermore, within American society, minority multicultural and multi-ethnic groups pride themselves on maintaining distinct cultures and traditions.

But what about white Americans? What sort of unique perspectives do white Americans have to offer to the discussion? The problem in answering this question first comes in the difficulty of defining American culture. The paradox of Americanism is that, in the democratic and immigrant tradition, the American culture is the preservation of many other ethnic sub-cultures. But few white Americans still feel emotionally tied to their ethnic heritage. My specific mix includes German, Scotch, and British ancestry, but my family has been in America far too long to celebrate Oktoberfest or Hogmanay.

Black Americans offer a similar but different case. Most are also removed from the cultures of any African roots, but cultural institutions predominantly associated with the Black community such as gospel music and the television network Black Entertainment Television (BET) contribute to the idea there is even a black American culture.

But it’s as if the national heritages of white Americans have been bleached out, and nothing new and distinct has come to take its place. The idea of the existence of white American culture is almost laughable. Apart from the 4th of July, fast food, and baseball, there are very few entirely American cultural traditions, and these traditions are all-inclusive—not white American traditions. And if any white Americans somehow overcame the impossibility of crossing such inter-white cultural diversity to define a unified white American tradition, this would provoke outraged cries of racism, probably most vocally from within the larger white population itself.

I am not advocating for the creation of a white American culture. It’s far too late for that. Nor would I ever want to assimilate minority cultures into the white blob of nothingness—not only would that be wrong, but minorities enrich what would otherwise be a very bland American culture. But there is something very satisfying about being in Ireland where the members of the majority will always have distinctly Irish, Celtic-rooted culture. And even though Ireland has an increasing immigrant population, no one should fear losing Irish culture. Outsiders can’t threaten culture. Culture only dies when people don’t preserve it themselves, perhaps the major mistake of white America.

Published in Metro Eireann July 29, 2012. Republished with permission.