Loading

“THE TROUBLE WITH BREVITY” BY KATE EVANS

All summer, I have struggled with the temporary nature of this program. I have tried to strike a balance between doing as much work as I can in these 8 weeks and being realistic about what I can achieve in such a relatively short amount of time. I have become friends with the people I work with, while constantly reminding myself that, with the exception of this summer, we live an ocean apart. As my departure inches closer, now less than three weeks away, the fact that I am a temporary member of my team at the office is only getting harder to stomach.

I have done exactly what I tried not to do: I have become attached. I genuinely look forward to seeing my co-workers on a Monday morning, and I’ve finally developed a significant knowledge base to help contribute to my department’s efforts. I’ve also created genuine friendships with some of the teenagers I work with on Wednesday afternoons. I feel like I’m just getting started, and yet I am not. I’m over halfway done. I have heard that some students continue to work for their placements after they return home, but considering I am working in an office comprised of Irish civil servants, that probably won’t be the case for me.

I’m less worried about “keeping in touch.” With texting, Facebook, and all the other wonders of the internet, I know I can maintain these relationships if I put in the effort. But I have thrown myself into this field in a way that I didn’t know was possible. I read countless news articles about migration over the weekend, and I try to gain more insight on Irish perceptions of immigrants by eavesdropping on conversations on the street and in restaurants. I am applying what I have learned about Irish history and culture to try and explain the current societal transformation in this country over group dinners and in conversations with other students. All the while, I am falling in love with the city of Dublin.

Soon, I will return to my normal life. I will still be able to easily track migration trends in Europe through the news, but I won’t be able to eavesdrop on the streets of Dublin. On Wednesday afternoons, I’ll go to class instead of zip-lining or going to the zoo with teenagers from all over the world. The people I have met here have changed my perception of many complicated issues, and I’ll take that new outlook with me. I hope the work I’ve done and will do in the coming weeks will be helpful to my office and, by extension, the populations it serves.

If all parties have gained something genuinely valuable from the experience, then what’s the issue with the fact that it’s temporary? Perhaps there isn’t an issue at all. I suppose it is only my own growing attachment that will make it so hard to walk away, yet it is this same attachment that has inspired me to embrace this experience so wholeheartedly. It will be difficult to leave and even more difficult to return to normal life after this incredible experience. I could have made it easier by remaining more guarded, but easier isn’t always better.

So, for the next two and a half weeks, I’m going to try not to think about the fact that I’m leaving. Instead of living every day like it’s my last, as the cliché goes, I’m going to live every day like it’s my first. I’m starting a new project at work this week that will involve visiting a number of projects that assist refugee women in preparing for and finding employment. I’m excited to delve into this specific issue and produce a report on the successes and challenges of these programs. I also can’t wait to see how these different non-governmental organizations operate, since my experience thus far has been on the side of government. In other words, normal life will just have to wait a little while longer.

“WHAT’S IN A NAME?” BY VICTORIA JOHNSON

One afternoon, we took the young people of the CDETB MAP school to visit the Irish Ombudsman for children. Halfway into a presentation in a cheery room filled with colorful bean bags, the woman presenting was just finishing up explaining how the Ombudsman was there to protect the rights of children in Ireland. One of the ways that they do this, she told us, was by taking complaints by children themselves about public services.

“Does anyone have any complaints they would like to say?” she questioned.

For a while, no one spoke. While I’m sure she wanted some actual answers, this question was one that probably was often followed up by some small concern, or even silence. But then Mewael, an older student in the front corner of the room, murmured something.

“What was that?” came from the presenter.

“My name. I didn’t have my name.” Mewael answered.

It turned out that something went awry with Mewael’s papers when he came to Ireland, and he spent many weeks without them. They got lost in the system, and so he lost his name.

Not only did he lose his country, his culture, and all familiarity, he lost the one thing core thing that shouldn’t be able to be taken away. He didn’t even have a name. It’s incomprehensible. Everyone deserves a name.

In Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, everyone does have a right to a name. Mewael had a valid complaint, one that he could take up with the Ombudsman’s office he wanted. Mewael and his name deserved to be recognized.

Something else is also recognized every day at the school. When I was first introduced to one of the classes, they were told to tell me two things: their name, and where they are from. At the school, these two things are very important. Their names are known, and so are their nationalities. It was vitally important, to the point that I was quizzed on naming these two things about a group of students on my second day.

Here, nationalities and identities are important. Something that astonished me in my first few weeks was how so many teachers connected their lessons back to the students’ identities. A discussion on flags included the home flags of everyone in the room. Computer class assignments compared home countries to Ireland. “What’s this in Romanian? Tigrinya? Pashto?” was a regular question from teachers. Yes, a lot of focus was on Ireland, but they didn’t have to leave behind their lives in the classroom. It was all integrated.

However, they were more than their countries, and they in turn changed how I saw those places.

To me, Romania is a pair of sisters offering me gum and snickering at my bad Romanian pronunciations as we dance to Romanian pop music.

Kuwait is a teenage boy who likes to add in worksheet answers razzing his friend (‘Muhammed has bad hair’ showed up once) and asks me where Captain America lives.

China is a young girl who parades around the school meowing and singing “E-I-E-I-O” while playing peek-a-boo around a couch.

The world is this school, a multitude of personalities and cultures all coming together in one beautiful chaotic classroom.

“MY CLASSROOMS” BY CHARITY AGASARO

My first classroom is small, and once in a while it is crowded. Irish accents are flying everywhere, and a huge number of people surround a small table because you have to make space for anyone who enters the room. In this space, people talk to me as if they have known me forever, almost like a distant cousin who is simply catching up with me. I have been warned that, “what is said in the canteen, stays in the canteen.”

As an introvert, crowded rooms and small talk are not exactly how I love spending my time, but the break room of the Department of Justice, a government organization, is quite a refreshing environment. Here I get the tea, literally and figuratively. The best restaurants, museums, the Duke interns that came before me, and the old days. In this room, I have learned a bit about the lives of the civil servants I interact with on a daily basis; what motivates them, where they lived, where they want to go, and how they train themselves to be good at everything because they can easily be moved to a different job. I also learn more about the Reception and Integration Agency, the branch I work for, which provides basic needs such as accommodation, food, and health care to asylum seekers as they go through the protection process.

My second classroom usually appears surprisingly, any time, any place. Every Wednesday, we have an activity with migrant youths, where we get to interact in a fun and engaging atmosphere.  One day we leave the cinema after watching The Incredibles 2 and we see one of our friends from Duke Engage sitting with a group of people chatting. We pass by to say good bye and the people quickly ask us to join them. They all speak Arabic but each of them comes from a different country: Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Kuwait and Syria. This could be a meeting of the Arab league, because most of the members are present. It turns out that they attend the classes my friend offers at his placement. They talk about America and their desire to visit, and one man says softly “you only know people when you talk to them, meet them, and live with them, that’s why I will visit America.” This is a quick lesson on empathy.

He gets really excited when I tell him “Shukran” one of the five words I know in Arabic, to mean thank you and a conversation starts.

A few minutes before we leave, I ask a seemingly innocent question to Ahmed from Egypt. I ask him about the country with the most difficult Arabic. With confidence he says “Egyptian, because it is original.” This sparks one of the most fun and entertaining conversations as Jaffert from Syria is having none of that. In the end, the conclusion is that even though Egyptian “Arabia” is the original, Damascus, the capital of Syria is the oldest and first city in the world.

The 2 classrooms might be extremely disconnected, but both of them are made up of people. People that work, people that have stories, people that live their lives, and people that can teach you a thing or two if you just listen.

“HOW TO EXCEL ON THE MARIO TEST” BY ANDREW CARLINS

Sonny: Alright, listen to me. You pull up right where she lives, right? Before you get outta the car, you lock both doors. Then, get outta the car, you walk over to her. You bring her over to the car. Dig out the key, put it in the lock and open the door for her. Then you let her get in. Then you close the door. Then you walk around the back of the car and look through the rear window. If she doesn’t reach over and lift up that button so that you can get in: dump her.

Calogero: Just like that?

Sonny: Listen to me, kid. If she doesn’t reach over and lift up that button so that you can get in, that means she’s a selfish broad and all you’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg. You dump her and you dump her fast…

This conversation featured in A Bronx Tale, perhaps one of the best movies ever produced, in a scene where Sonny was explaining to Calogero how to judge another’s character. This method, deemed the “Door Test” was a significantly improved and more dignified way of judging character than the previously introduced “Mario Test.”

In fact, because of how unnerving the Mario Test could be to both the test giver and test taker, it was deemed unacceptable by Calogero, which is partially why he went to Sonny for advice in the first place. Calogero was fortunate enough to be able to avoid the Mario Test entirely.

At the IRPP, unfortunately, I do not have such a luxury…

There have been times where a refugee family living in an EROC has seen another family of similar size and circumstance arrive after them and receive permanent housing before they do simply because the county that family was randomly assigned was better at securing houses. When refugees approach staff about why their waiting time is so long, they are told that their county is doing the best it can (which is often true).Since its inception, the IRPP has used a rigid resettlement model which matches incoming refugees to a country without granting the assignment flexibility. Refugees were to be housed in an EROC (a reception centre) until their assigned County Council found accommodations suitable for them. While this model worked effectively with few counties, as the amount of counties and programme refuges grew, the model faced increasing trouble scaling. Currently, the resettlement model is resource intensive, difficult to manage and, at times, can create a sense of unfairness.

IRPP staff sympathise with refugees suffering from long resettlement wait times. Given their limited amount of resources, they make a large effort to care for all refugees fairly and equally. However, for various reasons, the IRPP has historically run into difficulties while trying to revolutionise the resettlement model.

Recently, I was tasked to engineer the newest incarnation of the Revolution. The goal was to devise a semi-flexible resettlement model that paired families to available households, instead of to counties. This would ideally resolve the sense of unfairness and resource intensiveness of the current model.

I’ve never had experience with quite a task before. I told one of my supervisors, who, like all good Revolutionary Leaders, repeated the idea broadly to me, sent me tools (in the form of a 26,000+ cell Excel sheet, which is how staff currently assigns refugees to resettlement counties) to reference and finally assured me that any work I produced would be great. A revolution is won by many small victories after all, and as an intern I am merely a volunteer mercenary fighting for Justice and Equality.

I worked tirelessly for the next couple of days trying to learn Excel. After days of training from fellow coworkers and Google I started getting the hang of it and was fascinated by its potential. Once I started dreaming of Excel spreadsheets and different tactics to organise data, I knew I was ready to apply what I had learned.

Trial and error finally led to the creation of an Excel formula that highlighted potential family fits and allowed the user to organise families based on how long they have been in an EROC when given certain inputs. I felt like I ‘Excel-ed’ and I was proud of that. I thought I had completed the task at hand and that my model would help thousands.

However, I quickly learned that my task was far from finished as the model still needed stress-testing and approval from others. The first tester, nicknamed “the old wise bear” for how long he has worked in the office and how much he has interacted directly with refugees, had a reputation for being critical toward changes to traditional models. His name: Mario. My model needed to pass the Mario Test…

Yesterday, two days before I was supposed to meet with Mario, I was taken to an EROC to sit-in on an Inter-Agency Meeting. These meetings and visits were supposed to be routine, quick and efficient, so I didn’t expect too much excitement; however, a moment of realisation came over me when I interacted with some of the residents…

On a standard tour of the EROC, I entered a classroom, and was rushed by excited children who had just finished beautiful hand paintings and were eagerly asking for high-fives. It was there that the potential impact of my Excel task hit me. The children in front of me put faces to what was previously just a line on an Excel file. They added a sense of humanity to a project that was previously solely computer-driven.

Too often those writing the policy do not meet those the policy affects, and too often do those that interact with individuals not have time, patience, or optimism necessary to revolutionise policy. It is difficult to engage in both the theoretical and the practical nature of a given concept, while still being empowered to refine it. As I sit at my desk, reflecting on my experience yesterday, trying to amend the system I created, and pondering the weight of the task that lies ahead of me, I know one thing for certain. I will never forget to appreciate the memories of all the little victories I had along the way to keep me hopeful that ultimately the model will improve and pass the Mario Test. It is in this hope that the secret to passing the Mario Test lies.

“EXPLORING IRELAND” BY SANTIAGO GONZALEZ-BONETA

It is 7:45AM on a Monday morning, and I am on my own waiting to board a train from Dublin to Cork with  my computer, a list of the places I had arranged to visit but had never even heard of before, a smartphone for navigation purposes, and this crazy idea that I can help coalesce a new multi-cultural network asking young writers across the country to envision an intercultural Ireland.  The only thing that is going through my head are a string of questions: what I am doing here? Why did ever think I could do this on my own?

The answers to these questions have come only slowly.  After taking the time to reflect, I have come to realize that what I was doing on the platform on my own was learning a ton of life and professional skills, most of which are intangible and hard to describe.  Traveling alone has helped me learn how to be more adaptable in unfamiliar and open ended situations, where there was no map or check list. I realized I was writing the manual for building a national network as I was going along.  This adaptability has help me to grow and mature in ways I didn’t know where possible or necessary. Now I know I can I can be placed in almost any environment and given virtually any task, figure out how get something done.

What I was doing on the platform, and in all the days that followed, was learning how to pitch a product, really an idea, in a way that would compel people to act and create new connections throughout Ireland.  My job was to pitch a writing competition to young people by going to every region in Ireland and by visiting virtually every library, refugee accommodation center, youth center, art center and writing club in the Republic.   The main challenge I faced in pitching the competition was finding a way to persuade the person in front of me that they could sit down and write a great story or poem.

Now, with every group I speak to, with every person I convince to write, and with every draft I read, I am answering the questions that nearly paralyzed me earlier on the platform. As the days pass I I find myself slowly persuaded that this crazy idea is going to work, and that I can do this on my own in a foreign county with no map.  I can’t say what the ultimate ripple effect of the writing competition will be, but I do know the effect it has already had on the people I have met, the young people who are now writing stories and poems, their parents, friends, and teachers who have been encouraging them and, of course, on me.

“SMALL WINS COUNT, TOO” BY GRACE EGAN

Thursday evening, I went to a conversation and workshop about international volunteering and the social implications that it has on communities and individuals. The people running the event implored us to ask the critical questions about our work and what it means. So, following their lead, I started asking myself the critical questions. Why me? What makes me special to do this job? Did DukeEngage really need to spend all this money for me to work at my internship? Am I worth all the effort? Couldn’t another student in Ireland do what I am doing? Granted, I am beyond thankful that I’ve had this experience but last night just reminded me of all the challenging questions you should ask yourself before you go abroad to work or volunteer.

When I read these questions, they seem pretty cynical or at least pretty negative. I think they imply that answers have to be in the negative. Why me? Answer: it doesn’t really need to be you. What makes me special to do this job? Answer: You aren’t actually that special, but your network got you here. Did DukeEngage really need to spend all this money on me? Answer: Probably not. Am I worth all the effort? Answer: Probably not. Couldn’t another student in Ireland do what I am doing? Answer: Sure they could.

Uninspiring right? So quickly these questions can turn volunteering into a paralyzing experience. People at Duke talk about these huge ideas about volunteering and service and anytime I leave those conversations I leave feeling down. I leave feeling that I can’t do any real good, I am replaceable, I am privileged, and no one wants my misplaced service which might just be a manifestation of my guilt. I mean, goodness, how does anyone do anything when you have conversations like that? I think people can become so caught up in all the reasons why service is complicated and why service has serious social implications that they become disheartened.

But what about the little wins? I fully recognize that I am not some super special 20-year-old that was born to save the world, but can I not feel good about the work I am doing? Can I not believe that I have had some small impact? And honestly, maybe the answer is indeed no, but I can try and look at the positives before being swallowed by the negatives.

Over my internship I’ve celebrated a lot of little wins, I think. Firstly, I worked on family reunification applications and though I am not a lawyer, I am an excellent photocopier and file tracker. When my supervisor worked with the client through specifics of the application, I might run out of the room to make copies of birth certificates or family registries. I concede anyone can make photocopies, but I know that without those photocopies, the client’s application couldn’t have been sent in. Yes, my impact was small, but it mattered. Maybe this is naïve but hey, it works for me. Also, I have done a lot of mini research projects. I researched adoption laws in Zimbabwe, deportations of Syrians from Saudi Arabia, forced disappearances in Syria, the Khan al Sheh Refugee camp, and material conditions in South Sudan to mention a few. All of this research helped add dimensions to visa applications, family reunification applications, and IHAP applications. I actually saw when my research showed up in cover letters and applications which felt pretty great. Maybe, just maybe, that will help the client’s case enough to succeed. Again, I concede someone else could do that research, but should that stop me from feeling good about my work? And finally, I am going through Nasc’s hate crime and racist report files and archiving them. Eventually, I will present the data and work to type up a policy recommendation. The people working specifically on this project in the past haven’t had the time to go through all of the files so that’s where my presence is key. And after all of the archiving, I will be able to produce something with an actual impact like a policy recommendation. That’s a win for me.

At the end of the day I think you need to have those uncomfortable, challenging, and personally criticizing conversations because they reveal the motivations behind your work, but you also have to be gracious with yourself. Without those questions I previously asked myself, I could be disillusioned with my impact or with my importance, but if I focus too much on all the ways I could be wrong, I won’t be able to work at all. So, I will continue to celebrate the little wins, but I will also try to check myself before I walk through Nasc’s doors or board a flight for my next international project.