The Skainos Project

We would like to congratulate our friends at the East Belfast Mission on the official opening of the award-winning Skainos Project. Skainos represents the cutting edge of social entrepreneurship that is a central component of the Northern Ireland Semester. The story below appeared on UTV on Friday, 23 November 2012.


Skainos shared space project praised

The Skainos Project, a shared space in east Belfast, has been described as a positive sign for Northern Ireland’s future, on its official opening day.

Friday, 23 November 2012

It is hoped the £21 million community regeneration initiative, which stands on the busy Lower Newtownards Road, will be well-used by everyone, despite being in a mostly loyalist area.

It features Ireland’s first vertical garden, a day nursery and a café, as well as an auditorium which will be used by the East Belfast Mission.

Rev Dr Gary Mason from the mission described the centre as an “urban village in the inner city”.

“There’s everything from homelessness, employment, social economy, worship centre, people living inside – there’s up to 150 people living in this almost Skainos village.

“I think it’s saying to the wider community within this island that people can share space together, they can live together, and that we do need to have new beginnings as part of all our peace process,” he added.

It’s a tangible sign that this is a dividend of the peace process for this area.

Rev Gary Mason

Twelve years in development, the Skainos Project has created close to 40 jobs since construction completed in October.

Buildings in the area were demolished to make way for the flagship development, which officially opened on Friday.

The First and deputy First Minister showed their support for the site, which they said represents inclusion and shows vision for the entire region.

Martin McGuinness said they were both pleased to be part of the Skainos Project opening.

“I think it will give encouragement and inspire people to recognise that within communities there are people who are working, not just in communities but cross community, to ensure that as we move forwards, we recognise the need to develop shared spaces that all of us can use for the benefit of society as a whole,” added he said.

It’s in harmony with where we are in the community at the present time and I want to see Northern Ireland moving forward and this represents, I think, everything that we are trying to achieve.

Peter Robinson

The scheme was funded by the Department for Social Development, the EU Peace III Programme, the International Fund for Ireland and East Belfast Mission.

“We are delighted to say that against all the current economic trends, over 90% of the commercial space in the development has already been filled”, said Skainos Director Glenn Jordan.

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland said the development is a boost for the people of east Belfast.

“The Skainos project will help alleviate dereliction along a major arterial route providing a significant opportunity to reinvigorate and revive the area, delivering real change in one of Belfast’s most deprived areas.”

The area also has high green credentials, with more than 50 bird, bat and insect boxes in walls and on wildflower roofs, while the use of exposed concrete, automated natural ventilation controls, biomass boiler and solar panels ensure a low carbon footprint sustainable development.


Northern Ireland Semester alum Reina Chano ’09 returns to speak on campus


Reina Chano ’09, Honors Peace and Conflict Studies minor and recipient of the 2010 Elise Boulding Award (for thesis work on Northern Ireland), will return to campus on November 5 to speak at an event organized by the Department of History. Welcome back, Reina!

Conversation with Reina Chano ’09
November 5, 2012; Trotter 303; 4:30pm

Come hear Reina Chano ’09 speak about her experience working in international development for non-profit organization OIC International as well as her recent school relaunch at the University of Pennsylvania as a student in the Masters of Science, Historic Preservation Planning program.

Light refreshments will be served. Please RSVP to if you plan to attend.

Guest Lecture by Dr. Denise Crossan at Swarthmore

Join us for a lecture by Dr. Denise Crossan on Monday, November 5

“The Creative Destruction of Capitalism and the Rise of Social Entrepreneurship”

A lecture by

Dr. Denise Crossan
Assistant Professor in Social Entrepreneurship
School of Business
Trinity College Dublin
Regional Director of the Swarthmore College Northern Ireland Semester Programme

Monday, November 5, 2012
4:15 p.m.
Science Center 101
Maps and directions to Swarthmore College

An influential 2011 Harvard Business Review article hailed the re-construction of capitalism and the development of a “shared value” approach to business practice. In this talk, drawing on public policy initiatives around the world, Dr. Denise Crossan will explore the complexity of the concept of social entrepreneurship and review how the private sector and international governments are supporting and growing new organisational forms that strive to deliver an equally weighted social and economic return value for their stakeholders.

Dr. Denise Crossan was appointed to Trinity College Dublin’s School of Business in January 2009 as Assistant Professor in Social Entrepreneurship; the first post of it’s kind in Ireland.  She currently teaches at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and her research interests include mapping social entrepreneurship in an international context; the measurement of social value and ethical practice in social entrepreneurship; international public sector policies to grow social entrepreneurship and understanding corporate social responsibility and blurring sector boundaries.

In 2012 she received the Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence, Highly Commended Award Winner, for her paper entitled “The Hologram Effect in Entrepreneurial Social Commercial Enterprises: Triggers and Tipping Points” published in the Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development (Vol. 18, No. 4, 2011).  Dr. Crossan’s in-field experience includes working as Community Business Advisor under the European Union’s Special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland from 1996 to 2002, and Dr Crossan acts as the Regional Director of the Swarthmore College Northern Ireland Semester Programme.


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.

Great Craic in a Divided Irish City

Here’s a repost of an article about the Northern Ireland Semester that appeared in the July 2008 issue of the Swarthmore College Bulletin.

By Carol Brévart-Demm

Maurice Weeks (left) and Reina Chano (right) met 1998 Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume.


Although Chano and Weeks each took two courses at the University of Ulster and attended additional lectures organized by Crossan, their placements in community organizations were the focus of their activities in Northern Ireland.

Chano worked with the Verbal Arts Centre, an educational charity group that sponsors a variety of programs, all centered on providing Northern Ireland communities with a safe place and space to “tell your story.” She assisted with the Centre’s community relations programs for young children from segregated schools, aimed at confronting the differences among and between Catholics/Nationalist/Republicans and Protestant/Unionists/Loyalists and encouraging children to interact, work together, and learn from each other. She has been designing a new community relations curriculum whose pilot program has been very successful, she says. “As someone with a growing interest in education, it has been an incredibly rewarding and challenging experience. Absolutely great craic!” She explains that craic means “good-natured Irish fun.”

Weeks worked with the Holywell Trust, an organization seeking to foster peace-building through healing, understanding, and cooperation. He undertook, among other activities, a project on immigrants in Derry: “The immigration population, especially from Eastern Europe, has greatly increased with the introduction of expanded European Union working provisions. Some groups of immigrants have expressed difficulties living in Northern Irish society.” Weeks was delighted when a local community worker offered to help him organize focus groups and interviews. “It’s amazing how open he was to my research plan,” Weeks says.

“From a Peace and Conflict Studies perspective, it’s interesting to be participating in the transition process, where a lot of the legacies of the Troubles have to be dealt with and yet, it’s a kind of model of conflict transformation,” Smithey says.


Visit to Stormont

From November 22

Today was freaking amazing. Josh and I spent the whole day looking each other trying not to giggle.

After class today, Josh and I went up to Stormont, the Northern Ireland Parliment, with our community organization.  The organization hosted for a question and answer session with the young people they work with and some of the politicians. The Deputy First Minister opened up the session with a little welcoming speech. My favorite line was, “Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions, that's what we're here for- though I'm going to leave…” It was funnier in context.

The question and answer session was really interesting, there was two rounds of questioning- two rounds of politicians/party representatives/MLAs answering. They included the Minister for Justice, a member of the Department for employment and learning committee, the youngest MLA, and many others who's names and titles I forgot to write down.

I learned some really interesting things, like the fact that because of the government structure the departments are set up so independently that it's difficult for them to communicate- which means members of the Executive committee can not know why a deal was decided on (the one at hand was a spending cut in Education that no one could answer why it had happened.)

The session was a lot of fun- the mediator guy was really good. He was really good at monitoring the time, while also letting discussions continue when he thought they were worth it. And he was an instigator man! He would pick up on small things very quickly and was willing to pull it out, and he also stepped in if he thought the parties were arguing too much.

Even outside of the political talks, I had fun. I was asked to write the names cards for each of the politicians. I still claim that whoever made that choice made a bad decision, because my handwriting is bad. But they all had legible name cards, though not the neatest or prettiest things in the world. I had to re-write several of them more than once, because of changes, misspellings, and once one guy going by a different name than the one I was given.

After that we moved on to a forum theater performance. It was pretty cool, I love that style of play. And one of the MLAs (I think that's what she was…) jumped in and participated.

After all the Bytes events had finished, Josh and I were invited to a Thanksgiving event- hosted by the Speaker of the House. Our thought process was, “I don't really know what's going to happen, but I'll go because it's hosted by the Speaker of the House!” So we accepted the invitation- which meant instead of heading home at 5 we were there until nearly 8.

The Thanksgiving thing started at 6, so Josh and I were sent to hang out in the library for an hour. We hung out in the LIBRARY at parliament! It was awesome! I made Josh take pictures when we were alone. We kept looking at each other going, “Is this really happening?” And we browsed through the books, and geekily pulled one off at a time to read a bit from it. I looked at books on slang, cultures of the world, modern ethnic conflict, and Freakonomics. It was a blast. I still can't believe it happened.

A bit after 6, our lovely host remembered us, she admitted she forgot us, which I'm totally fine with because A) the lady organized the Bytes event and the Thanksgiving event, and B) the library was awesome. We then were taken to the Thanksgiving event. It was basically a bunch of politicians, diplomats, and some other people who worked for the US or the NI government mingling/networking. The Speaker of the House and the Consulate General from the US gave speeches about the relationship of NI and the US and on Thanksgiving. And Josh and I were introduced to several diplomats, including the Consulate General. The Consulate General also invited Josh and I to visit the Consulate and met with him! It was so surreal. I couldn't believe it.

I still find it hard to believe. I've asked Josh several times if today has been real. He responded that if I wanted him to he could pinch me. I told him, “No thanks, my aching feet are enough proof… And anyway if this were a dream I'd be in higher heels.”

Written by Hannah Kurtz

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…).