Author Archives: satjome


As I look back upon the Northern Ireland semester, roughly two weeks after I returned to the states (and the day of my flying out to a totally different country for a swim team training trip), I remember with great fondness my time there. I learned a lot in those few months, and only time will tell how much more depth and what new insights will be garnered in the future with my experiences from abroad. Perhaps it’s telling, that you only know how much you value something after the fact. I find that with a lot of things…
But, I digress. Being in an environment that was still dealing with the past, and the legacy of violence was often challenging, but beyond the surface perception lies a deeper layer. I found that nothing is as it seems. For all of the assumptions that are made (including ones I had), there was at least one person who would defy the stereotypes, or break the mold in some way. To be honest, most people don’t really even care about the politics of the county, they only care about it to the extent that it affects their daily lives. People from back home often asked me “Do you think you’ve made a difference? Do you think there is hope there?”. I will treat these two questions separately. My answer to the first question would be, I certainly hope so! I can’t really know now the impact I may have had years down the line, but what I do know is that I’ve only been able to control my actions, and that my attitude towards others was one that I always tried to keep focused on hope. Despite my frequent frustrations, and the challenges I’ve faced, I really have tried to keep the glass half full. I’m generally an optimistic person. I I try not to take criticisms personally, or failures as a sign of the future. I try to learn from such things, and to change future actions based on them. I will try my best to make a positive contribution wherever I can, regardless of circumstances. To be honest, I can’t really change the circumstances anyways, the only thing I can do is change my own attitude. This is something that has only been reinforced this semester. I have been incredibly frustrated at times, especially when I see things that I would rather have changed. This was particularly the case during my research project, where the political system’s occasional incoherency and illogic bugged me, but hey, nothing new there, I get that with pretty much any political system. Thus, I just consciously dropped the frustration off a cliff, and focused on a realistic, yet optimistic mindset. Sure, things aren’t the way that I want them, but it’s a journey of a thousand small steps. This journey is one that I still see my community organizations on today, as well as the people I met while I was there. Thus my answer to the second question would be , ABSOLUTELY. I’m never one to say ‘this is hopeless’. I don’t believe in hopelessness. Though I understand it can really be frustrating sometimes, I don’t think it’s ever constructive to give up hope. I have seen how far things have come, and while there is most definitely a long ways to go, there is definitely still hope. It’s odd, because now when I’m asked about NI, I feel an intense personal attachment now, something that I didn’t necessarily expect I’d have when I arrived. It simultaneously feels like home, and a totally foreign place, depending on the day. While I’m glad to be home and see my family and friends, I REALLY am going to miss this country. I loved being there, learning from everyone, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with two wonderful organizations. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I am especially grateful to[my community organizations] to my program coordinator and to the wonderful faculty and students at ISE.

Stormont youth consultation

Stormont, Scintillating Stories, and Super Shenanigans
^hooray for alliteration!

I was excited going into the day, because I knew it was the day that the youth from my community organisation were going to have their consultation at Stormont. Having dressed up a bit for this event, I felt a bit more at home visiting the incredible estate at Stormont, home to the NI government and I helped set up without feeling terribly out of place like I did earlier, when I toured the estate with the youth group. I had literally NO IDEA what to expect, having not seen any of the questions that the youth had come up with. The goal of the session was linked to what we did the first day at the consultation we did where we were staying, with the youth forum, when we discussed the issues that affected the youth with them and brainstormed a list of questions, issues, and policies. The youth had since met multiple times and done a significant amount of work on the questions, distilling complex issues down into factually based, concise, compact, compelling and challenging questions. The process I had not seen, I had been busy with other stuff and wasn’t really involved, but in retrospect, I recognize that there was a substantial effort and thought put into it, and I can only imagine the logistical headwork behind this event.

Speaking of logistics, I got to glimpse the genesis of the project, or at least hear the story from the perspective of the youth, which was amazing, inspiring, and empowering. I had previously only heard bits and pieces of the story, and only from the Bytes staff, who are awesome, but only described the process as observers. To hear the youth describe it for themselves was incredible! I was struck by the raw passion, emotion, and anger that they had (though all were constructively applied, so no worries!). They were frustrated about an issue, then realized that there were several other interlinked issues affecting their community, and had decided to do something about it. They gathered more than 6000 (!!!) signatures on a petition, so that they could come before the assembly and have their voice heard. They had worked incredibly hard, and you could tell that it had a significant effect on them, they were incredibly glad to have it come to fruition.
A bit of background the youth had originally come together over an issue affecting them in the community, specifically, the mental health of youth in the area, their friends and the community at large was very poor. Suicide was frequent, and rising. This frustrated the youth; and the lack of counseling services, someone to talk to, and a substantial amount of substance abuse and other circumstantial factors only worsened the situation which they found themselves in. They decided to band together as a support group in their community, which was very successful. The organization they set up had gotten multiple grants from the O2 Think big competition, and was widely regarded as a good influence in their community. This allowed them to get the reputation necessary for an audience with Stormont politicians, and they worked with [the community organizations that I had been placed with] (since the youth had all come from [my community organization’s] centers around the Belfast area) to organize the meeting.

I had no idea what to expect, having never done this sort of thing before. I admit I was somewhat apprehensive, given recent goings on in the center I was working in (example, someone lit up a joint in center the other day…much to the annoyance of the staff I was working with, we worked together to creatively diffuse the situation, but ended up closing early that evening.). The difficult thing for me was to bracket those concerns, and then focus on the issues and challenges at hand. Much to my surprise and pleasure, the youth were on their best behavior and took full advantage of this valuable opportunity. This made me quite joyous, since I’ve been confident for quite some time that the youth are very capable, and this gave them a chance to really prove themselves! They Did so with flying colors, (ok, bad metaphor, here in NI that means different things….so suffice it to say they rocked the place, with piercing pointed questions cutting straight through the political firewalls),
As I sat there listening to the youth wax eloquent on the issues that affect them (primarily mental health, homelessness, lack of funding, education, crime and punishment, juvenile justice, suicide, in addition to many more) , I was struck by how passionate and personal their responses were. The questions were very much their own, though they were crafted with [my community organiazation]’s help (how much, I don’t know. But there were VERY personal responses, and they struck a strong emotional chord with me. I empathized with the youth, and they were significantly effective with politicians as well, calling them out when necessary, crafting compelling, challenging, even borderline snarky responses when the politicians attempted to dodge questions. They were very honest, holding out their opinion respectfully, but firmly. The politicians, for the most part, responded in kind. I was VERY struck by some of their responses…but more on that later.

Constantly, thoughts kept running through my head, faster than I could control them. My emotions galloped up and down on a roller coaster. I felt enthused, passionate, frustrated, and elated all at the same time. My policy-minded side was on fire, my brain buzzing vividly with thoughts, like hundreds of bees, all in response to the stimuli I was picking up. Every time politicians responded, responses flooded my head, while I was still listening. It was bizarre; I never felt such a powerful presence of civic engagement and empowerment. The youth were absolutely impressing me, beyond my wildest dreams and expectations. I remember thinking to myself during the session “THIS is what it’s all about, civic engagement, taking your passions to the debate floor, your issues to community leaders, holding them accountable, and taking practical action in response to very real problems!”
I was floored by the sheer sense of engagement in the room. Everyone there wanted to be there, was 100% present, no checking out (at least that I observed) as is so common with youth in a normal session of a Bytes program. There was a powerful force in the room, one that I’ve rarely observed. It was the power of representative democracy at its purest, where youth themselves take control of their own political potential, and bluntly tell the politicians like it is in their community. It was done very respectfully, with titles, and formalities. There were not shouting matches, or even partisan bickering (the wonderful facilitator made sure of that, I was continually impressed with his ability to keep participants on track, formulate follow up questions and get counter-responses, and feedback. Save one annoying detour at the end as a formality, I was extremely happy he was doing that job, and which did so free of charge). The potential in the session was enormous, I was happy to see how it was done, and I look forward to hearing about the practical change being done as a result.
Right, enough about my feelings about the session, now it’s time for some details! In attendance were 5 MLA’s, from the DUP, UUP, SDLP and SF, and the minister of Justice, as well as Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness (who amusingly commented “it’s my pleasure to welcome you all here. This is the place to ask the hard questions, and with that comment, I’ll now leave the discussion to the panelists”. He promptly left to go do other stuff, but I found it amusing…)

Budget issues, of course, came up. In this time of economic austerity everywhere, I have taken it for granted that there are cuts everywhere. And, maybe I’m showing my political ideology here a bit, but I know that some cuts aren’t going to be fun, but have to be made anyways. However, the partisan rhetoric evidence was very much present here, whenever funding cuts came up, they avoided the topic like the plague, but when pressed, presented talking points on ‘well, this actually ‘saves’ money’. Yeah right….I felt tempted to scream “I KNOW that there need to be cuts. I UNDERSTAND!! I even AGREE!! But, the question is WHAT cuts, WHERE, and WHY!!! Separate the ideology! Weigh the costs and benefits! The cliché phrase ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ is VERY relevant here. If the community orgs are better organized and know the community-on the ground info BETTER than the politicians, they are more efficient! Certainly, they should be held to the same standards regarding results, but hey, isn’t like there Is a compelling reason for cutting funding from one of the most effective (in my experience) sectors in existence, especially when it could potentially save ENORMOUS amounts of money.

Another theme was that of accountability. There are lots of promises made, but not always kept. The youth made a point that there is a need for transparency, themes I’ve seen become nearly universal in politics. This includes back in the States. Really, a lot of the stuff the youth discussed could be extrapolated and put into a context outside NI. The US is facing a crossroads, with a significant amount of changes coming their way, and I hope for the best, but also know that it will be difficult. The amount of frustration with politicians was clearly evident in the room, the community certainly wanted change and a receptive audience, capable of taking action on the policy level.
At the same time though, I saw politicians who seemed very genuinely to want feedback, to want the community to communicate, who wanted to work with people to get things done (noticeable absent in the states….). Despite the noticeably strong opinions, and very real ideological differences, there was a genuine desire to give back. Many of the politicians had themselves come from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, and they understood the concerns the youth were talking about because they had experienced them firsthand. I really appreciated this, though it was difficult to tell whether their actions had matched their rhetoric, since I’m not done with my research yet and I don’t follow NI politics to a larger extent enough to know. Even so, I was happy to see that things are getting better politically, despite the seeming disconnect between political bodies, and the community. There are many politicians genuinely trying to make a difference, and for that, I give them immense credit. This is certainly great progress from the not so distant past, where it would be difficult if not impossible to even get them to sit down and the same room as each other, so it was cool to see the progress that has been made.

I remember talking to the participants, many were somewhat nervous/intimidated, and I now understand what that’s like! I don’t mind talking to politicians, but socializing with them afterwards was somewhat awkward, though I did get to meet the American consulate general, which was cool. It made me feel in a different context some of the awkwardness/intimidation of the participants. The specific feeling was hard to describe, but I would put it somewhat as a ‘fish out of water’….since it’s a fairly foreign context. Still though, it was a good experience, and I think the youth enjoyed it as well. From what I gathered, they felt as though their voices were heard, and they took full advantages of the valuable opportunity. I, for one, consider that a success!

Reflections on training (pre-corrymeela)

Today we did youth work with a local group again, for the last time (it will happen next week, but Hannah and I will be gone). The primary exercise we did today was “not on my street”, an exercise where youth ranked the order of people that they would want/not want in their community. The members included ‘gay nurse’, orange order member, SF councilor, ex RUC constable, community worker, reformed drug addict, part time female model, bus driver, hospital doctor, and unemployed youth. The order of preference varied by group, but the discussion within the group I was in was fascinating. I was the scribe, but also asked probing questions about the rationale behind why youth answered the way they did, and got some very interesting answers. The group ranked gay nurse very low (9), and member of orange order last (every group consistently did so). The female model was ranked first, not unsurprisingly because our group was ¾ male, but the interesting thing was why. I asked if they would change their answer if the model was male, they affirmed this. The lone female in the group (F to preserve anonymity) was very charismatic (reminding me of a very ‘Swarthmore’ persona, Hannah convinced her to apply afterwards, and she gave out her contact info later in case she was interested in applying contacting her about applying there). She was consistently trying to dissuade the guys from their opinion, challenging their positions and rationale. She even decried the group as ‘sexist’ at one point, as well as homophobic (when asked about whether they focused on the ‘gay’ part of ‘gay nurse’ or the actual profession (nurse) they answered that they would focus on the gay part, ignoring the profession, regardless of the fact that [IMO] the sexual orientation of the person in question doesn’t affect how they do their job. I do understand legitimate ideological opinions about the morality of sexuality, but that shouldn’t affect perceptions of people doing their job…

The next bit was interesting ,as after all the groups had recorded their answers, they were asked to listen as [the facilitator], Hannah and myself read out the bios and background stories of each of the people they were ranking. They were then asked to discuss and then re-rank the people. I wasn’t surprised to see that this changed their answers, but it did so in an interesting way, which literally tied exactly with what we were discussing in class two weeks ago, that who you are is determined on what you where you live, and that the local context is really important in order to determine the way forward. It affects our perceptions subconsciously, and the only way to examine this bias Is through reflection and discussion. Back to the original point in question, the answers changed to a surprising extent. Model got dropped to 8, and the nurse was brought up to 2 (as F has wanted, she then rescinded her comment about the group being ‘sexist’). The idea of making youth question their preconceptions by hearing the full story, and question their gut reaction was particularly interesting, and I admit, I questioned my own assumptions and biases, which was the goal of the exercise.
It would be fascinating to run this (albeit with different characters and context) at Swarthmore. My bet would be that anyone remotely right-wing, rich, conservative, republican, etc. would be put at the bottom of the list. I think that it’s always worth thinking through our stereotypes and questioning them. Something may be true for one member of a group, but that doesn’t mean it’s true for all of them. I’ve learned that I have my biases even in the exercise, as the image that came to mind with ‘reformed drug addict’ was male, [though I did actually focus on the reformed part, not the drug addict part], even though the case study was female. I will certainly keep in mind that with future endeavors. It never hurts to be reminded of one’s own biases, even if it is uncomfortable. It’s a growing experience I suppose…
This was the last time I will be working with the youth, as the Corrymeela residential conflicts with the last training date. I found working with the youth to be a fantastic experience overall, I enjoyed it greatly, and learned a lot about myself. Namely, I have more in common with them than I thought, and that youth work (in the right context) is actually a constructive and positive experience, even in a completely foreign context. I realized that I really enjoy being a facilitator, and given the proper training, I will develop that skill in the future.

Reflections on Corrymeela

I just spent a week at Corrymeela Community in Ballycastle, on the beautiful North Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland, experiencing their process for dialogue, mediation and conflict transformation. Our entire class walked through their process, starting with our Life Histories, and then exploring Deep Dialogue, and even experiencing a bit of the Wild Nature approach. This normally is done over a very extended period of time, usually with groups that have significant differences. For example, they typically work with a variety of groups that have been historical antagonists, such as a group including Loyalist and Republic paramilitary members, in addition to security forces personnel. They also frequently do work with international contexts, such as Israeli/Palestinian dialogue, and work over in the Balkans.
I’ve had a day since Corrymeela to think and reflect a bit more. I think it was good for my soul to be there, I had a fantastic time, and I’ve rarely had more fun. I laughed more there than I have in a long time, formed a deep emotional and friendship bond with the group, met loads of interesting people, and discovered even deeper who I am , and who others in the group are at a very personal level. There is something very unique about Corrymeela, it will always hold a special place in my heart, and I understand why people are drawn to the place. I was saddened by leaving; it was such a wonderful place.
At the same time though, it was a difficult and challenging place, I confronted truths about myself, and my preconceptions of others, as well as did activities that I felt very uncomfortable with (mostly the art-based ones, since I am not good at that and felt a struggle when doing it). The hardest things, however, were also the best things. I learned more about myself and how I think and function through them, and I really pushed myself to a place where I didn’t want to go because I was uncomfortable. It was because of this uncomfortable nature that I actually learned, and by letting myself go there, I got a better understanding of everything. I am continually drawn back to the example of Aslan, the Lion from C.S Lewis’s Narnia series, where the following occurs: [when asking about Aslan], “is he a safe lion?”, “Safe?!? No my dear, far from it! BUT, he is a good lion”. This idea of safe vs. good has always resonated very strongly with me.
In the end, I suppose that the point of Corrymeela is doing just that: pushing yourself to understand others, have deep dialogue with them about what difference is, and how it affects us, to push the barriers between people away, and to just spend time getting to know other people, even if they’re totally different from you in every way, shape, and form.
I will never forget my experience at Corrymeela, I feel as if I’ve only begun to learn from my experience there, and future reflections will take my back, and allow me to further explore the nuances of what happened there. Truth be told, I’m not entirely certain what I feel right now, my emotions have gone in so many directions in the past few days, but it’s been good. I don’t consider myself and emotional person, though I acknowledge that they exist, and that I feel, but I have a different way of processing them than many, and they rarely exhibit themselves externally. This week however, I had so many going through my head it was almost overload, but I let myself just be, and experience it all, reflect. I learned the value of stillness, though I still don’t get as much out of it as many. I learned to respect it though, and I feel as if it reinforced and brought value to my understanding of how to befriend people who think differently than I do, and that experience was really valuable for me. That should do it for now, I am exhausted of writing, there is so much more I could say, but I’ve written so much in the past few days, I cannot do any more reflection. It was good though, I enjoyed it, and it allowed me to think through my thoughts in a slightly more organized manner. I have found reflective writing to be a useful learning tool, and I hope to be able to do it in the future (I don’t yet like it quite enough to do it for fun…).

Some Thoughts on Youth Work

by Josh Satre ’13

The following is an excerpt from one of my reflective journals recently- Enjoy! 

Some thoughts on youth work

I was able to engage today, I had a nice conversation with one of the youth who had been in center consistently at the same times as me. I found him a really nice guy, he asked me where I was from ,and we started chatting. We ended up talking about sports (as is common in many of my conversations since I’ve been here…) and though I don’t really follow many, I did watch basketball this summer, with the other interns from the organization I was with.  Thus, we had a long conversation about it, particularly about the exciting NBA finale this year. I felt a real sense of connection, which was new, and encouraged me greatly. I finally felt as if I could engage with the youth (some, at least), and continued to make connections, build relationships, and get to know people with a few of the youth today. There are some genuinely awesome youth, despite my frustration with some of the ‘troublemakers’ (a common term used here), I really believe that there are some fantastic young people here, and I’m saddened they get a bad rap due to a few of their peers making poor decisions.

Later on, when one of the staff was chatting with the youth, the dialogue went something like this:

“what’s the craic with those lads last night?” “I don’t know, they’re weirdoes.” “You know them” “—right, but I don’ hang out with them”

“what sort of thing would you be interested in?” “I don’t know…perhaps a drug and alcohol workshop?” “Would they be interested?” “–only if there were free samples! *laughter*. Naw, but they aren’t going to change,  that’s just ‘the way they are’.”


The way they are….that phrase really struck me. Not sure why…but it bothered me. I understand it, and certainly agree that that is the way things it would seem. But it raises the question: is it the way things always will be?  I don’t think it necessarily is. I don’t believe that the youth are making intractable choices, but the onus of changing their behavior lies with them and them alone. The staff in the community organization I’m placed with are awesome, and I think genuinely has their interests at heart, but they cannot forcibly alter or will the youth to change their decisions, that must come from within. I haven’t seen any evidence that ever shows that human nature is incontrovertibly unchangeable, as the entire point of faith (or lack thereof) is to illustrate that we have free will and that our belief structure is fluid, and that experiences shape it. There are things we cannot control, but since they happen anyways, it’s in how we deal with them that matters. The way I handle a certain situation is what changes who I am.  Gandhi once said that

““It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

Basically, it’s not within our power to control the results or future beyond a limited extent, only our actions in the present. I learned this is relevant to the local organisation’s case as well, the reason they are in [the community I’m placed in] (the actions that they are taking) is well intentioned, but they cannot control the youth’s response. On the one hand, it is up to the youth to change, but on the other, it is a decision to continue to provide services anyways, even if they don’t reciprocate.  I feel as if the philosophical aspects and ideal ‘moral’ outcomes differ slightly from the pragmatic, funding based constraints. Ideally, the [the center I’m working in] would remain open, and thrive (even if it doesn’t happen immediately). The hard thing is balancing this with a practical reality is that this outcome is unlikely. Thus, the question is, where do we go from here? I literally have no idea what will happen, but I’ve learned to take it one day at a time, doing what I can in an everyday context, doing whatever it takes to make a difference in someone’s life today, even if I can’t see the long term impact. I will make every effort that I can to engage, because I can control my own actions towards others, and place the burden of responsibility on myself. I

cannot force others to change, but I can love them all the same (in spite of their actions). Note that this doesn’t mean endorsing negative actions, in fact, the condemnation of inappropriate behavior is just as loving, even if people can’t see it. I quote my earlier conversation with [one of the  staff], comparing good politicians with parents “that’s the thing about doing something in someone’s long term interests, even if it’s unpopular. You’re always going to be hated, even if it’s well intentioned, and they might look back and approve, they won’t like it at the time. Sort of like parents—they love you, but man you get frustrated at them at times for doing something that seems ‘unfair’, despite the fact that it’s in your interests at the time. I guess it’s because we didn’t know it at the time?”  It is my attitude towards others that I can control, even if I don’t know what other points of view people will take towards it.