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Letter from Northern Ireland

Letter from Northern Ireland

Reina Chano '09 is an Honors history major and peace & conflict studies minor from Tokyo, Japan. She is a co-coordinator of Swarthmore TOPSoccer, and spent last summer working at a camp for children with autism with support from the College's Lang Center. Her current activities include chugging cups of tea and searching for pots of gold at the end of every rainbow, of which, she says, "there are many!" Write to her at

Maurice Weeks '09 is an Honors sociology and peace & conflict studies major from Maplewood, N.J. He plans to spend part of this summer working on an organic farm in Spain, then assisting Lang Visiting Professor of Issues for Social Change George Lakey in his research. He calls his team's win last year of the first Garnet Chef competition a "crowning achievement." Write to him at
Swarthmore's newest study abroad program opened this spring in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, with a deliberate focus on the country's ongoing peace process. The program is largely organized around the work that students engage in with local community groups dedicated to, and heavily involved with, creating civil society organizations and processes which foster peace.

he semester started rolling the moment we stepped off the plane. The drive from the airport into Derry/Londonderry is something that can keep your eyes open even with extreme jet lag. Rolling hills, baby sheep and more shades of green than you could possibly imagine. Absolutely beautiful!

Denise Crossan, our program director, introduced us to the divided status of Northern Ireland with a drive through the housing estates. We drove past Catholic/Nationalist/Republican neighborhoods, peppered with colors of green, yellow, and white on lampposts and curbstones, and saw Protestant/Loyalist/Unionist areas with their colors red, white, and blue. Powerful murals immortalize members of the civil rights movement, paramilitary groups, and the victims. A short drive into Donegal, part of the Republic of Ireland, helped us appreciate how easy it now is for people to go between the Republic and Northern Ireland, when before, the roads had been riddled with army blocks. That day, we drove up to Grianan Fort and had a chance to be absolutely dazzled by the scenery.

The anniversary of the events known as Bloody Sunday took place early in our stay. We both attended a number of events that marked the somber occasion, including a talk by Bishop Daly, commemorations for other less known horrific events like the Ballymurphy incident, and a talk from the former police ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan. Listening to stories from both communities shared in such an open manner throughout the week left us feeling quite raw and shocked.

Free Derry Corner in the Bogside, historically the site of several violent clashes between residents and police.
Derry/Londonderry is a mainly Catholic/Republican/Nationalist city. While there are still Protestant/Loyalist/Unionist areas, such as the enclave called The Fountain, we are in contact mostly with Catholics. So in order to get the full spectrum, we have also spent some time in Belfast, Northern Ireland's largest city. Adree Wallace, a community worker, has been an enormous resource, serving as our guide to the housing estates and other areas throughout the city. She and community leaders like Frankie Gallagher continue to give us a different perspective and "both sides" of the story.

Throughout the semester, we have met incredible people working at a grassroots level to enact change and bridge the gap between Northern Ireland's communities: from Anne Murray, principal and a founding member of Oakgrove Integrated Primary, Derry/Londonderry's first integrated school, to Paddy "Bogside" Doherty, a legendary figure who led the Free Derry Movement and essentially rebuilt the city of Derry/Londonderry after the Troubles. It is said that if one wants to see Paddy's legacy, one need only to look around.

Paddy left us completely star struck. His first words to us were his motto: "It is much easier to seek forgiveness than to ask permission." This is something he used to define his work and is a common theme that runs throughout the influential peace-makers we have met - taking risks.

Mo and Reina with Paddy "Bogside" Doherty, who led the Free Derry Movement.
One illustration of his risktaking is actually one of my (Reina) most treasured moments here, which came after we attended this year's Tip O'Neal lecture by Kader Asmal. Catching sight of Paddy, I asked if he knew where I could find a copy of his autobiography. He smiled and replied, "I have copies at home, for a friend." Next thing I knew, he had invited me to come over later in the week to his house for a copy.

When I arrived at his house in the Bogside, which he had built himself, the door was wide open. Much too timid to simply walk in, I rang the bell. He came out and ribbed me a bit - "the door's open for a reason, it's always open so people can come in" - and then ushered me inside. At the end, he handed me his book and told me to come back anytime.

Paddy leaves his door open - always. Anyone can walk in and talk to him, from a random college student to individuals in the Bogside, to community leaders from the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist communities. To put it bluntly, I think it's the most badass thing I've ever seen. I think it highlights the profound amount of respect this man commands in this city, and beyond. As a critical leader, Paddy has taken on so many risks over the years, including many that threatened his life, for the good of this city and its citizens. The open door is symbolic of his many actions, risks taken, and achievements.

Mo and Reina with 1998 Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume.
Perhaps the most famous leader we've met is John Hume. In fact, it is not uncommon to see him walking around Derry/Londonderry at different events in the city. This Nobel Peace Prize winner still keeps in close touch with his hometown. We bumped into John at a football match and met him formally at his office in the university. One day walking home from class, I (Maurice) had just been thinking about how amazing it was to see important figures like this all of the time. Then, almost if I had willed it to happen, John Hume rolls by in his car, saying hi out of the window - true story!

Our classes at the university are a welcome supplement to our learning experience and give theory to some of the things we have seen. The most significant is Paul Arthur's "Politics of Divided Societies." Professor Arthur was crucial in the peace process and is well-published on the Northern Ireland problem. In addition, we both have different community placements - Mo with the Holywell Trust and Reina with Verbal Arts Centre.

Our program, while demanding, is full of good craic - from car rides into Donegal to a day out on the Causeway Coast and seeing Mussenden Temple to the Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, and Bushmill's Distillery. The best event was when we went bowling. Reina learned the benefits of beautiful little things called bumpers, and Maurice showed no mercy on her, Denise, or on her young children Hannah and Louise. He beat us all soundly, no shame whatsoever.

Comparable to the Free Derry Corner mural is this one in a Protestant/Loyalist/Unionist area in Belfast.
We also attended a Derry City Football Club match against Finn Harps. As special guests, we had the opportunity to visit the lounge where we bumped into John Hume having a cup of tea - amazing! By the end of the game, when Derry had won 2-1, we were both hoarse, freezing cold, and most importantly, official DCFC fans, complete with official Derry FC scarves ("City 'Til I Die!").

This program has been more than we could possibly have hoped for. The number of people we have had the opportunity to meet, and the craic among the local people of Derry/Londonderry, provided wonderful opportunities to take part in experiential learning in a society coming out of conflict. Above all, our program director, Denise Crossan, should be commended for her commitment to giving us the best program possible and her role as our teacher, cultural broker, coordinator, advisor, and friend. The program is a huge success because of her.

Oh yeah, and craic means good-natured Irish fun or banter.

Mo's work with Holywell Trust | Reina's work with Verbal Arts Centre