During the summer of 2018, 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.
“An Issue of Magnitude” by Matthew Mosca
I have just completed my third day at my placement, the Social Work Team for Separated Children, a small group that deals with all minors who arrive in Ireland without an appropriate guardian. This is a formidable task considering that typically upward of 100 of these separated children arrive in the country each year. For each and every child, the team finds a place to live, either a house with other separated children or a foster family, helps to prepare them for schooling in Irish schools, and facilitates the process of application for refugee status.
The team is guided by the principles that each young person is a child first and a migrant second, and that the young people deserve care and opportunity equal to that of Irish children. Already in my first few days with the group, I have seen that the social workers stick to these principles unwaveringly. They do this not because they are always reminding themselves of these principles, but rather because they genuinely care about each young person, and so putting the child first comes naturally. Already I have seen several social workers moved by powerful emotion as they fight to give the young people they work with the best that they can.
One social worker I have spent time with, Rick, told me about the Calais refugee encampment in France. When this encampment, sometimes called the Calais Jungle, was dismantled in 2016, it was discovered that more than a thousand unaccompanied minors had been living there. Ireland generously committed to help, but as of yet the team has been able to take in just over 40 of these separated children.
This reflects Ireland’s role during the European refugee crisis in general. It is a small country with limited resources, so although it can alleviate some pressure, it is not able to take in as many refugees as other European countries, some of which have needed to accept many thousands.
It could be instinctive to conclude, then, that Ireland is not making much of a difference in the grand scheme of the crisis. This is not the only way to look at the situation, though. Rick, referring to Calais, made a comment that stands out in my mind. He noted that while Ireland may not be able to take a large percentage of the separated children from the camp, to each young person taken in it means everything.
Herein lies an issue of magnitude. We tend to think that big impact must be statistical, relating to many individuals’ lives. However, a single person’s life is everything to them. So, when one person’s life is completely altered, how can we call this change small? This is one of those fascinating ideas that is totally obvious even as it is hard to comprehend. There is a critical tension between doing some for a large number of people and doing a great deal for a few, and it is for us to decide whether one of these doesn’t devote greater respect to the complexity of each person’s needs. This is not to say that we need not strive to change many people’s lives, but rather to emphasize the power of focusing our energy on doing good for individuals.
Doing individual good is exactly what this team is best at. In accordance with the team’s guiding principles, each young person is treated as an individual human with unique needs. Bit by bit, this individual good accumulates to something truly special, and through its child-first and equitable approach, the Irish program has been recognized across Europe for its quality.
I look forward eagerly to the weeks ahead with this team.
“The Ethical Challenges of Intercultural Diversity in Ireland” by Alex Johnson
This year will be the Fourth Annual Intercultural Writers Contest. Each year, newcomers and native Irish youth submit poetry and prose on the ethical challenges of intercultural diversity in Ireland. Jointly organized by Metro Éireann and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the contest draws submissions from across the country. I have spent my first week here helping Santiago Gonzalez-Boneta publicize this contest.
Ireland, Dublin especially, is increasingly diverse. More than 20% of Dublin residents were born outside of Ireland, this represents more than a 50% increase in single decade. With this fact and the contest in mind, I have spent much of my time in Dublin reflecting on the theme of the writers competition. Drawing both from my own first impressions and conversations with others, I’m not sure yet what the most salient ethical challenges are posed by this diversity. But it does have me wondering whether diversity should always be considered a good thing? Does diversity alone make for an intercultural city?
Ireland is diverse along many dimensions: race, culture, politics, etc. And yet, people often say that diversity is a shared value and shared good. Diversity benefits all. Integration, it is often assumed, will be simple. But at first glance, Dublin, like other cities, has traces of self-segregation. Is this a problem? The Northside of Dublin is sprinkled with ethnic shops and restaurants catering to Vietnamese, Brazilians, Poles, and other newcomers. But are they frequented only by newcomers or are they becoming integrated into the lives of native born Dubliners as well? Does it matter? Do Irish shop at the Brazilian shops? Do Brazilians eat at the Vietnamese restaurant? Do Vietnamese buy sweets at the Polish bakery? My initial impressions suggests that these shops primarily serve a single nationality, but I can’t say for sure. Nor can I say if that is necessarily a bad thing? And if so, who is it bad for?
Metro Éireann is Ireland’s only multicultural newspaper. It is the herculean effort of its editor and principle writer, Nigerian immigrant Chinedu Onyejelem. The newspaper has long heralded the successes of newcomers to Ireland, but it has also shed light on the considerable challenges to life in Ireland for newcomers. The paper tries to humanize the statistical patterns. For Chinedu, integration requires mutual respect and understanding; it is a a two-way street. Immigrants adapt to Ireland but Ireland also adapts. Diageo, the parent company of the world-famous Guinness Stout, recently sponsored a well-publicized training program for young adult refugees. And some refugee youth are eager to play Gaelic sports.
Part of the task is helping the Irish understand the experience of newcomers. Toward this end, Dublin City Council and a local photography gallery are planning exhibits and workshops on borders and migration—including collecting and displaying family albums from across the newcomer communities. Initiatives like this, as well as the writing contest, are opportunities for native-born and newcomer Irish to forge a new way forward.
In the coming months, youth across Ireland will be using their imaginations to craft stories and poems about the ethics of intercultural diversity in Ireland. Through these stories, the young people will reflect on intercultural sensitivity. This topic is of seminal importance in Chinedu’s mission for two-way respect and understanding. More important than my views on the intercultural sensitivity in Ireland are those of the young people who are living here. These are the ones who get to decide the future of Ireland’s people together. Together with Metro Éireann and projects like this writing contest, Irish and newcomers can together explore the opportunities diversity will offer and forge a way forward.
“On Wearing Pants” by Andrew Carlins
“A don doesn’t wear shorts” — Carmine Lupertazzi, “The Sopranos”
Talking with fellow DukeEngagers about my discoveries, I realized we all came to the same conclusion: wearing shorts in Dublin is, in fact, socially acceptable. Accordingly, we could not understand why we were never allowed to wear shorts… It wasn’t until I was revising policy documents, representing the Justice Department at a meeting with my supervisor, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, and NGOs ranging from the Irish Red Cross to Amnesty International, that it clicked.
Before we left DukeEngage Academy to return home for a month, we were given three words of caution for when we arrived in Dublin:
- The cars drive on the left side of the road.
- The deceptively cute seagulls are really vicious beasts ready to snatch your food.
- Never, ever, under any circumstances, wear shorts.
With that, each of us twelve DukeEngagers returned to our hometowns, excitedly anticipating our departure to a sui generis summer experience. And, after what seemed like an eternity packed into a month, the time to fly to Dublin arrived. Awaking from my in-flight slumber as the plane landed, the temperature was different (as it was now measured in Celsius). We arrived in Dublin and I was like a child in a candy shop after eating a few Pixy Stix. I was hungry, and I couldn’t wait to explore…
I found Dublin a fascinating place. The buildings were beautiful, the sun was shining, and the landscape seemed untouched relative to the New York City streets I was accustomed to. Still taking in the sights to satisfy my curiosity, much like a plant takes in sun rays to satiate itself, I recalled the three words of caution I had been given.
I looked around. The cars did, in fact, drive on the left side of the street. Check. I looked up. The seagulls were, in fact, swarming above my head, like vultures waiting for an unsuspecting tourist to walk out of a store with a sandwich in hand. Check. I looked to my left and right, and the people, native Dubliners and tourists alike, were in fact wearing…shorts. What? Perhaps there was some mistake made, some miscommunication? I put this in the back of my mind and continued to fixate on my new environment.
The following days brought with them a plethora of orientation activities ranging from a tour of Kilmaney Jail to completing a scavenger hunt designed to acclimate us to our new surroundings. Each event brought with it more learning and more anticipation of meeting our supervisors. Soon enough it was time for me to start my placement at the Irish Refugee Protection Programme…
I learned a couple of things in the first five minutes at my office. First, that there was a lot of work to be done and documents to read. Second, that “The Office” is not too far off from reality. And third, that tea time is at 11am… Shortly after beginning to read documents in preparation for an upcoming task force meeting and a two more things became apparent: 1. This work was going to be incredibly interesting and 2. My co-workers all love “The Sopranos.”
After finishing reading and annotating an entire forest worth of paper, I did some research to help me better understand my environment. “Top ten quotations to know from the Sopranos,” I googled. I clicked on a link, and immediately began laughing to myself. The first quotation was “a don doesn’t wear shorts,” with a brief explanation describing that “there is no reason why a man who takes themselves seriously and wants to be respected should be wearing shorts in public.” I guess, at least on this trip, I must be a don then, I joked to myself and finished up the day…
Coming home, each of us were more excited than the next to share our first day experiences. In my own excitement I cannot remember all of the stories shared with me, but I can recall being fascinated with the range of experiences my friends had, from pioneering a writing competition across all of Ireland to helping integrate and educate unaccompanied minors and refugees, to designing a research project in tandem with the government, to working with city council to prepare an exposition on minority communities in Ireland.
I couldn’t fathom the range of experiences, ones that go beyond just community service, that we were exposed to and directly engaged in. I remember the feeling of community and mutual support we each felt. I remember how grateful I was to have been chosen for this program. I remembered my first-day experience, realizing that my joke encapsulated within it an ivory pearl of truth; us twelve DukeEngagers are all dons of our own.
The next day brought with it a meeting about the project I am tasked to work on. It included representatives from the government, the UN, and NGOs operating domestically and internationally. It also included breakfast, lunch, and refreshments, which is, according to my supervisor, how I should know it was a big deal.
At first, I sat quietly and listened at the meeting, intrigued with each party’s perspective on the issues at hand and the policy documents we were revising. Finally, I mustered up the courage to suggest an alteration in phrasing that would help expand the initiative, making it more open to Irish citizens. My supervisor liked the idea and after a few minutes of deliberation the group decided to amend the document accordingly.
Following the meeting, I reflected on my day… I couldn’t wrap my head around why these professionals were even giving a second-year college student the time of day, never mind actually considering and accepting his suggestions. I realized that there must have been reasons that traversed me at play. These reasons were rooted in relationships formed through years of partnership, in trust and in presentation. Much like a don, whose opinion is valued by all, I figured if you act like a don, and dress like a don, people will treat you accordingly… It was a good thing I was wearing pants.
Wearing pants became a symbol for me. Broadly speaking I realized that as a DukeEngage Dubliner, we dress to impress, and we are always impressing. Wearing pants is a constant reminder of that. We represent more than ourselves, more than Kenan, and more than Duke. We represent the culmination of years of relationship building dating back to before DukeEngage even existed. And forgetting that even for a moment could lead to catastrophe and would completely miss the point of the program. That is why we only wear pants.
I am grateful for this opportunity. I know I am privileged have it, and I anticipate each moment of it (even interactions with dreaded seagulls) with a blend of excitement, curiosity, gratitude, appreciation…and pants.
“Birth Certificates, Family Registries, and Paperwork…Oh, My!” by Grace Egan
I have worked with the refugee community in Durham pretty intimately for the past two years, but my placement at Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, has already expanded my knowledge on a topic that I thought I knew a lot about. My understanding about refugees and resettlement has come from personal interactions and research on pretty general topics. Nasc on the other hand has very intimate interactions with their clients, but they know the very specific details on the law and how it affects immigrants. This is a perspective on migration and resettlement that I had never been exposed to before this week. And let me tell you that it has already created so many questions in my mind and has complicated my understanding of something that I thought I knew very intimately.
Right now, Ireland is finishing its first round of IHAP applications. IHAP stands for Irish Refugee Protection Programme Humanitarian Admission Programme 2, which is Ireland’s new process for family reunification. Meaning, if you live in Ireland as a refugee or under subsidiary protection and you come from UNHCR’s list of top ten major source countries of refugees, you can apply for your family members to come live with you. The deadline for the first round of IHAP is June 30th, so Nasc has been flooded with clients trying to fill out this application and making sure they have all the right paperwork.
My knowledge coming in on legal complications during the resettlement process was very limited, and it still is, but I knew it was a mess. I knew that it was extremely difficult and nuanced, but the first meeting I sat in on opened my eyes to a whole lot of bureaucracy that I wasn’t ready for. The requirements for IHAP are extensive. The requirements are split into two categories: one, the proposer and two, the proposed beneficiaries. The proposer is the resident of Ireland and he or she needs one of the three items, 1) a certified copy of his or her Irish Residence Permit card, 2) a certified copy of all pages of his or her Irish Passport, or 3) a certified copy of his or her Certificate of Naturalization. This is the easy part, but the amount of people who came in with a copy but it wasn’t certified, or the solicitor had made a mistake on the certification was great.
1) Certified color copy and certified translation of passport (all pages), national identity card, a valid Travel Document or proof of registration with UNHCR.
2) Certified color copies and certified translations of any documents that show evidence of a family connection such as marriage certificates or birth certificates.
3) Two color passport-sized photographs for each proposed beneficiary. The name of the beneficiary is to be written clearly in block capitals on the back of each photograph.
4) In the case of a minor beneficiary (person under 18 years of age), who is the child of the proposer (see eligible categories), a letter of consent from the other parent (if applicable) granting permission for the child to travel to and reside in the State will be required.
5) In the case of a vulnerable close relative who is under the age of 18, sufficient evidence that the proposer has parental responsibility for the minor will be required.
Getting all of these for my own sister would be difficult enough, but imagine you are trying to get your niece’s information from Syria. Getting these documents costs money and a lot of time, which not all of these proposers can afford. Without all of these documents, the application is automatically dismissed, so every piece is crucial.
On one hand, I get why Ireland has so many requirements to prove family relation and personal responsibility for the beneficiaries. The Ministry of Justice doesn’t want people abusing the system or bringing in people that aren’t in fact a part of their family. These are all very valid reasons, but sitting in those meetings watching the clients faces change when they realize the amount of work they are going to have to do really makes me wonder what would be so with a few more migrants in Ireland? At the same time there are only a very limited number of spots that Ireland has to offer, so what would be so bad with less harsh requirements if the number of people will still be the same?
As an individual who is thinking going into law as a career, my few days at Nasc have shown me how difficult the law can be for people who are at the mercy of it. Everyone has to follow the law, but when someone’s livelihood, safety, and existence is dependent on a plastic card that could be taken away, the meaning of the law has a whole new definition. If nothing, I am just so appreciative of Nasc’s work because without it what would these people do? I am sure they would try and figure the law out by themselves, but the inaccessibility of the language and the requirements would certainly make them stumble as it has done to me. This week has made me even more curious how law is intertwined in everything that we do, but also has made me question who it is helping.
“Network Building in Ireland” by Santiago Gonzalez-Boneta
I have just completed my first week and half at my placement with the Metro Éireann newspaper organizing the Fourth Annual Intercultural Writing Competition. In the past, the Intercultural Writing Competition was more focused on targeting students that live in Dublin. This year I am focusing on expanding the competition to other major cities such as Cork and Galway.
Within my brief time at this placement, I have definitely faced challenges in creating a new intercultural network throughout all of Ireland. Having never been to Ireland before, I did not have any connections or people that I knew here. However, with the help from Professor Tobin, Professor Shanahan, and Mr. Onyejelem, the editor of Metro Éireann, I have found my footing in Ireland. I have also found DukeEngage Dublin’s network to be extremely helpful. For example, two students that have had this assignment previously have given me insightful advice on how to improve the competition. Also, I have received immense help and support from the cohort, especially from Alex Johnson who has specifically helped me on the publicity side of the competition.
Given the competition’s expansion, I want to focus on a specific strategy for each city that I go visit. So far, I am mainly focusing on the Dublin strategy. I have been contacting numerous libraries, youth centers, community centers, and churches. Over the past couple of days, Alex and I have begun to hang flyers in the outskirts of Dublin on both the north and south side of the city. These districts have mainly been composed suburban residences. We wanted to ensure to advertise the competition in the suburbs so students that do not live in the center of Dublin can have the opportunity to participate. In the next upcoming days, I will need the cohort’s help hanging flyers throughout the city of Dublin. Their help is essential because I am trying to get the word out as quickly and efficiently as possible since we have already received social media promotion from writing centers and cultural centers.
Another challenge I have faced so far in building an intercultural network has been ensuring that there is diversity. Fortunately, Metro Éireann’s office is located in a part of town in which migrants make up the majority of the population. Metro Éireann is also known as a multicultural newspaper which means its readers come from various backgrounds. In addition, Mr. Onyejelem included a press release I had written in the front page of the latest issue of his newspaper which will help the competition gain diversity. Nevertheless, it is critical for me to focus on promoting the competition to migrants, especially for students whose first language is not English. For that reason, Alex and I visited the City of Dublin Education and Training Board Youth and Education Service Program where we gave a small presentation explaining the basis of the competition and gave teachers informational flyers. I made sure to stress that this writing competition is a great opportunity to practice writing in English because I understand the struggles of learning English through my own experience as a Mexican migrant moving to the United States at a young age.
Constructing a new intercultural network across all of Ireland will continue to be a challenge throughout my time here. In just the first week and a half, I have had some success through social media publicity and hanging flyers. Just today as I was hanging flyers, I visited a radio station that is interested in interviewing me on air next week. What made this experience even more special was that I met with the main producer who showed keen interest despite being stressed about interviewing the new mayor of Dublin. With help from the cohort, the DukeEngage Dublin network, and continuous productivity, I will be able to build an intercultural network across Ireland.
“Am I Expendable?” by Angel Heredia
Am I expendable? Could the work I do here create a lasting impact, or has my American “savior” and “privilege” complex aided my own naivety?
The days at the City of Dublin Education and Training Board’s Youth and Education Service (CDETB YES) program are long, but you can feel the sense of heart that the very limited number of teachers have here. It’s not your typical summer school, and I don’t think it ever could be. How could we normalize students who have witnessed and suffered from tragedies that we ignorantly “share” on Facebook and then call ourselves activists from the safety of our first world country? How could we then expect these human beings to forget about missing their families and focus without excuse in math class as a diligent student should? How can I expect that the data I have to compile for the school is making any of the students’ life better? In reality, it’s not. Therefore, in some aspects of my job, I am expendable. Anybody could teach simple math, but not everybody can check their privilege and learn all about life from young children who barely speak English.
I arrive at the secluded and backstreet building of CDETB’s YES school at 9:00 am. The building’s empty external look comes from its location, but on the other side of its roll down gates is a world of diversity, literally. The students I help teach come from all parts of Africa and Eastern Europe. There are approximately 60-70 students in the school and are split up in groups 1-4, with group 4 being full of students with the best English proficiency waiting to attend Irish school in September. The purpose of the YES program is to help students gain enough English to enroll in Irish school, meaning that some students could be there for years while others for weeks. Essentially, we try to give them enough English to make friends, as we also understand that they may struggle with some academic language in Irish school. Sure, they learn some mathematics, and geography, and other subjects you would expect to be taught at a school, but it is all basic and any interaction in the English language is a lesson in itself. We also go on trips around Ireland in order for students who have recently arrived in Ireland to get to know their “adopted country”, as they call it, their “new home”, better. In essence, I would say, this is a school for life; life in Ireland, life as your own autonomous person, life as a refugee facing adversity.
I’ll be teaching a class on mental health next week. I’ve never had a thorough conversation with anybody about mental health, and it’s a bit tricky navigating that conversation with students who have seen and felt more than one can imagine. It puts things into perspective, you know? I look at my own struggles, privileges, and everything in between, and know that I will leave Ireland with a healthier mind after my experience with these students. Their lives are truly beginning to change mine in terms of how I see my own life. I’m not saying this to add some corniness to this reflection, but it’s the brutal truth that they have placed a reality check on my own “struggles” and “privileges”.
I will also begin researching schools in different European countries that have similar programs to ours in order to learn and advance our own methods. I am hoping to work with my colleague Kate Evans at the Justice Department to get a grant for school uniforms in order to create more unity and structure. I think our biggest challenge is to maintain a fine line of student comfort in the school but also a sense of seriousness in the classroom; uniforms may help students focus better in class but also help them feel connected to one another as more than just refugees.
It’s not a typical school, and maybe that’s why I’m not expendable. Anybody can teach math, but it takes heart, vulnerability, and a rude awakening to be able to learn from these students and recognize our roles in each other’s lives. I’m supposed to be here to learn about life just as much as they are.
I look forward to getting more out of this school and finding something I can implement to create a greater sense of community for these students who are so far away from home, yet bring parts of home with them every day to each other’s lives.
“A New Perspective … or A Slippery Slope?” by Kate Evans
“What do you all think of the issue of living accommodations for asylum-seekers? If we’re talking about the current state of Ireland, we ought to be talking about the injustice occurring every day in those direct provision centers.”
When I hear this question, I’m sitting in a large canvas tent on the coast of Dalkey, a beautiful seaside suburb of Dublin and home of the wonderful annual book festival which I am fortunate enough to attend. The panel I have just listened to about the ‘State of the Irish Union’ was insightful and interesting, but I had been content to simply listen and be fascinated by the conversation, which primarily concerned the recent referendum to legalize abortion. It was not until this first question from the audience that I felt a personal, instinctive and surprisingly defensive reaction.
This summer, I am volunteering for the Department of Justice and Equality at the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration (OPMI). OPMI is responsible for facilitating and creating policy regarding the integration of all migrants, including refugees, asylum-seekers, and other legal immigrants, into Irish society. It is a daunting task, particularly because the progress of integration is incredibly difficult to measure. Just down the hallway, the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) is dealing with an equally challenging task: to provide accommodation and services to all applicants seeking international protection, often by housing these individuals in the aforementioned direct provision centers. All of my co-workers in both of these offices work incredibly hard to do their jobs well, and they genuinely care about the individuals they serve.
So, given the dedication and compassion that I have witnessed at work so far, imagine my natural reaction when I hear an entire panel of journalists and community leaders condemning the entire Department of Justice and Equality, referring to what is supposedly the most optimal direct provision center as a ‘cesspool,’ and equating the entire system of direct provision to the Magdalene Laundries, which were absolutely brutal institutions of confinement.
My initial reaction to all of these denunciations was defensive because my mind at the time was consumed by the kind faces of my new co-workers and their explanations of why things operated the way they did. Since a new system for processing applications for international protection was implemented in 2015, there has been a backlog of cases from the old system that still have not been completed. The direct provision centers are surely not optimal, and anyone in the department will likely agree. However, the centers were never designed or given the resources to house families for multiple years as they often do.
Upon reflecting on this conversation that I witnessed in Dalkey, I have realized that I was too quick to feel so defensive. I have established friendships and working relationships with the wonderful people at the Department of Justice and Equality. At the same time, I cannot let my position as a volunteer for OPMI obscure my vision of this complex and heated political debate in Irish society. More importantly, I cannot dehumanize the people living in these suboptimal centers for years who are quite possibly as victimized as the critics in Dalkey claim, regardless of the well-intentioned people I have met in my office.
Reading through The Irish Times yesterday, I stumbled across a political cartoon criticizing the recent atrocities at the border of the United States and Mexico, where young children are being mercilessly separated from their parents. The catch of the cartoon was that it pointed out the hypocrisy of pointing fingers at the United States while direct provision centers are viewed by many as an equally brutal form of incarceration. This reference to a US political debate made me realize the implications of my internal struggle here as a government intern. I am beginning to wonder: How can my observations about the nuances of the direct provision debate here in Ireland inform my own political opinions and actions at home? Rather than constantly criticizing, how can activists and concerned members of society think more critically about solutions to these astronomical issues? Is this push and pull of outrage and government response simply the natural state of a government and its people, or could this relationship ever be changed for the better?
I did not expect my experience here in Dublin to be so introspective and morally challenging, but I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn from and work within a society that is rapidly transforming. I hope that my unique perspective as an outsider can positively inform my work at OPMI, and I know I will bring my reflections about the complex nature of these large political issues with me when I return home.
“The Faces of Confidence and Celebration” by Nicoly Santos
Throughout my first week in Ireland, I felt as though I was plunged headfirst into an environment a thousand miles away from my comfort zone. I was hesitant and wondered how could I, a first generation, low-income student who had never traveled outside of the United States before, be a positive contribution to a community I have never lived in? I arrived at the Gallery of Photography, a not-for-profit organization which focuses on multiple social issues, with this hesitant mindset. I wanted to make myself useful. I wanted to be a positive force in my workplace and help advance the gallery’s social goals. Yet, I was unaware of how I could begin to accomplish this feat in unknown territory.
My fears were vanquished the moment I entered the gallery. I was greeted by smiling faces, colorful photographs covering every inch of the walls, and enough work to keep my mind too occupied to doubt myself. The gallery always has a new event occurring. They feature exhibits on photographs from students who have recently graduated from art schools in Dublin, migrant issues in the form of photographed borders and digitized family albums, and LGBT+ rights. My first 2 weeks working were centered around constructing a new exhibit around this last theme.
Gay Community News (GCN) is Ireland’s oldest LGBT+ magazine. Originally established in 1988, it was founded by Tonie Walsh and Catherine Glendon when homosexuality was criminalised in Ireland. GCN began as an 8-page black-and-white newspaper and has grown to be a 130-page magazine sent to thousands of individuals across Ireland for free every month. Each issue of this magazine has become bolder. GCN continues to grow and challenge the norm. In their history, there is a clear trend from asking for acceptance to challenging social norms and paving the way for a happier “rainbow society,” as Tonie Walsh loves to say.
The Gallery of Photography made it possible for members and supporters of the LGBT+ community in Dublin to see the culmination of 30 years worth of struggle, sacrifice, and victory framed for all of Ireland to witness. Individuals such as Senator David Norris, who fought for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ireland, were able to witness this symbol of respect and progress for the LGBT+ community. In addition, the names of contributors to GCN surrounded the walls in red and black text. Photographs of active members of the LGBT+ community in Dublin surround three walls and parts of the ceiling.
The Gallery of Photography contributed to this community by showcasing their accomplishments in a beautiful manner easily accessible to the public. I was a part of this experience. I witnessed the effects of photography firsthand. I saw it in the faces of every individual who walked into the gallery. I saw it in crying faces who could not believe they were seeing their community represented. I saw it in couples laughing and holding each other when they saw themselves framed on the walls. I saw it in myself, when I realized I developed the confidence to walk into the gallery, do what was needed, and ask a senator to take his photograph.
Photography changes the lives of those who see themselves, their communities, and their identities reflected through the lens of a camera. It has the power to change lives by leading social and cultural change. I was wrong to worry about being a positive contribution. At the Gallery of Photography, there is so much work to be done for the community that time to worry is a luxury we cannot afford. I am grateful to the gallery for the opportunity to work there and show Ireland the faces of silent communities. I am excited for the work that is to come.