In our history, Hedge Schools were places of learning, continuity and resistance, emerging out of the draconian Penal Laws that forbade formal education to most Irish people. Learning about and resisting the causes of poverty is at the heart of Afri’s work and the Hedge School symbolizes the kind of resilience and creativity needed to address the crisis facing our world as a result of climate change and the obscenity of the war industry.
As Joe Murray (Afri’s Co-ordinator) noted in his opening address the crisis facing our world today cannot be over estimated but it also represents an opportunity to bring about the kind of change that is urgently needed. Justine Nantale spoke about the effects of climate change in her country, Uganda. She noted that most people in Uganda are dependent on farming and when the rains don’t come they are very badly affected. For them, climate change is not something to be debated, but a living reality.
The 2013 Hedge School was organised in partnership with the students from the Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown (ITB). The students played a hands-on role throughout the day from being involved in the decoration of the room, to introducing speakers, to making presentations on the themes, to composing poetry, music and dance! Right from the start participants were also invited to critically engage with the themes, with an interesting question being raised at the start of the day: how many people had used cars to arrive at the venue? The answer: the overwhelming majority as evidenced by a packed car park by 9.30am! This highlighted the dependency Irish people have on fossil fuels.
This dependency on fossil fuels was addressed up in the debate between David Horgan (from Petrel Resources) and William Hederman (Journalist): “Natural Resources: Whose Gain, Whose Pain? From Ireland to the Wider World.” David Horgan argued that the Irish Government needs to open up the oil exploration licences and allow for aggressive exploration particularly in the current economic climate. William responded that the Government’s terms in relation to exploration licences are some of the worst in the world, heavily favouring the oil companies, and that climate change has not been taken into consideration at all in this debate around our resources. Scientists, in a recent IPCC report, acknowledged that human activity is 95% likely to have caused climate change.
Conflict is also linked to resources, as John Lannon from Shannonwatch pointed out, as conflict often breaks out over countries trying to secure their own energy supply. An incredible $1,700 billion dollars is wasted annually on the arms industry, which is obviously diverted from other more important needs. Worryingly, despite Ireland being a neutral country, we find ourselves now complicit in wars such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq due to the use of Shannon airport by U.S. military troops.
One thing that struck home was a word used by Justine: the Swahili word “pamoja” which means “together”, “oneness” or “interconnectedness”. Any solution to the climate crisis that faces us all must come from us acting together. As part of all Afri events a tree is planted as a visceral and direct way of tackling climate change. This year Afri planted three trees in Farnaght Woods in Leitrim as part of the Native Woodland Trust’s project to restore Ireland’s tree cover. In solidarity with this Afri’s partner in Kenya – The Kenya Pastoralist Journalist Network – also planted a tree in Kenya, highlighting the fact that we are all affected by climate change and all need to be part of the solution in whatever way we can be.
There was also powerful drama from Donal O’Kelly and Gary White Deer gave a presentation on ‘Art of campaigning’ in a day that was informative, varied, challenging, engaging and thought provoking.
Afri is particularly grateful to IT Blanchardstown for being excellent partners in An Scoil Chois Claí 2013.