I had about a dozen students, aged 10 to 12, from two grammar schools in the area. We had just gone to the recording studio for a quick session and were heading back upstairs where the rest of the 50 students were busy working on their digital stories. Hannah, though, had become captivated by the quilts on display in the front hall. She stayed behind, trying to count the number of small, blood-red squares that were stitched, overlapping each other, onto a black background. Each square represented a person who had been killed in the course of the Troubles. There were many squares.
A Protestant/Loyalist/Unionist mural in Belfast.
I went back to her and we began to walk together, away from the hall and up the stairs. Hannah paused at another quilt on display. About 50 large square tiles adorned it, each square commemorating a victim of the Troubles. I asked her what she was thought of the quilts. She nodded her head solemnly, seeming to be speaking more to herself when she answered: "Aye, they're grand. But I keep thinking, so many people died. It seems so ... I just wonder, why?" I couldn't say anything, other than that I didn't know either.
I am interning at the Verbal Arts Centre (VAC), an educational charity organization which hosts a large variety of programs, all centered on providing Northern Ireland communities and individuals with a safe place and space to "tell your story." The VAC was the first organization in the region devoted to the promotion of community relations through raising awareness and actively celebrating the language arts.
Reina appears in the background with her VAC co-workers John and Jennifer during an RTE feature on Jennifer and her work. Watch more.
I work for Sarah Lapsley and Ciaran Flanagan, who run "See Me See You," the VAC's community relations-based education program for secondary and primary school children. The program brings together children from segregated schools to participate in a four-day program centered on discussing the perceived differences among and between Catholics/Nationalist/Republicans and Protestants/Unionist/Loyalists. Thus, children have a chance to interact, work together (sometimes even meeting for the first time), and learn from each other. As an intern, I have helped Sarah and Ciaran facilitate workshop sessions, getting a chance to interact and observe the many children who have endless fun listening to me botch their names - and who continue to go to segregated schools and live segregated lives.
My big project at the VAC has been designing a new educational program. As the VAC are looking to expand their available community relations, educational "See Me See You" programs, I've been assigned to design a community relations curriculum using Bill's New Frock, a book about a little boy who turns into a girl for the day. A pilot program was run in Enniskillen several weeks back, with great success. As someone with a growing interest in education, it has been an incredibly rewarding and challenging experience. Absolutely great craic!
Rainbows at the end of one of Reina's long hillwalks.
Not only is the work I'm doing fascinating, but my co-workers are great as well! I'll never forget the day Jennifer, Claire, and I were on our hands and knees, having to drag OJ, Jennifer's seeing eye dog, into a trash bin because he was sick, while the rest of the staff went into hysterics and we laughed until we couldn't breathe. Or the more normal, day-to-day events: the friendly banter, the jokes, and the copious amounts of tea we all consume (strong Irish breakfast with a dollop of milk, at least eight times a day).
Outside of work and class, I am a member of the Hillwalking Club. As many Sundays as I can, I go on weekly hillwalks around the scenic mountains and trails of both Northern and Southern Ireland, all for three pounds. The group is a fun mix of locals, university students, and international students. It has become my main avenue for meeting people and having a great time. You can't help bonding with someone when you share so many special moments, like stepping in a mound of sheep poop or clambering over amazing rock formations while the weather switches rapidly from sunny to windy to rainy to hail and back to sunny. On our last walk, which took place in Glenveagh National Park in Letterkenny, we saw five rainbows in a row - absolutely spectacular.