Impressions from the 2014 Hedge School

Cathyrn O'Reilly (standing) and Vonnie Munroe of the Dunnes Stores Anti-apartheid strikers speaking at the Afri Hedge School in ITB.
Cathyrn O’Reilly (standing) and Vonnie Munroe of the Dunnes Stores Anti-apartheid strikers speaking at the Afri Hedge School in ITB.

By coincidence, the Afri Hedge School 2014 took place on the 96th anniversary of the official ending of World War 1.  I say ‘official’ ending as of course a monstrous machine of that size and ferocity doesn’t suddenly come to a halt all at once. Active battling in which several human beings lost their lives continued well after that iconic moment of the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month on which the leaders cried ‘stop!”. And signatures were made on a piece of paper.  I say ‘official’ as the fallout, the ramifications of that horrific war, ironically titled in the recruitment propaganda as ‘the war to end all wars’, is still to this very day having its devastating impact. The battles continue long after Armistice. The trauma has traversed generations in the many insidious ways that trauma can. Palestine is just one of many, many ongoing casualties that continues to bleed and die.

The lives of those men who had chosen to become or had been forced to become soldiers and were sacrificed in that war are traditionally remembered by silence and ceremony on this iconic day.

The Afri Hedge School chose not to hold the silence, but rather to facilitate the raising of voices. It invited the testimony of witnesses and casualties beyond those in active combat. It welcomed the awkward questions. And it framed all of this within the matrix of conscience.

Dunnes Stores Strikers Cathryn O’ Reilly and Vonnie Munroe spoke of their conscientious action regarding the Apartheid regime in South Africa; Maitet Ledesma from IBON International spoke on the violence of a military industrial complex that fuels climate change and makes a casualty of Mother Earth herself; Katie O’ Kelly performed her enchanting and challenging piece in which the voice of the Palestinian Olive Tree spoke on water, war and occupation; damning testimony was given by those living in the torturous limbo of Direct Provision in Ireland, waiting endlessly to hear if they are to be granted asylum in this land of the hundred thousand welcomes; while Brian Fleming’s bodhrán gave voice to the numbing pain of those enduring this limbo state in his and Donal O’ Kelly’s piece on the same practice.

‘Look no marks’, was the chilling mantra in Donal and Brian’s disturbing piece. It might well be a mantra for so much of the devastation of war that is disowned by the war-makers. In one short day it would be impossible to unveil militarisation in all its nightmarish reality. What the Hedge School sought to do and succeeded in doing was to remind us that war has many faces and the victims of war many voices. It was a provocation and an inspiration to conscience to become informed, to take courage and to act.

Tribute and many thanks has to be paid to the students form ITB’s Social and Community Development course, together with their lecturer Liam McGlynn, for the prominent role they played in the design, promotion and facilitation of the Hedge School 2014. The thoughtfulness, courage, warmth, intelligence and good humour with which they carried it off not only made the experience of working with them a pleasure but bodes well for the communities in which they will undoubtedly continue to share their time and talents.

Report by Rose Kelly, Afri’s Development Education Co-ordinator

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