‘We’ve won campaigns and had successes and we must celebrate and remember these as we take on the challenges that lie ahead’, so said Trócaire Director Caoimhe de Barra, setting the tone for Afri’s Féile Bríde Conference, 2019.
She recalled East Timor’s long campaign, and the genocide perpetrated against it, and how it eventually gained its independence, with much support from around the world, especially in Ireland.
Caoimhe also referred to other successful campaigns, like for example creating market access for Fair Trade products, whereby you can now find fair trade tea, coffee and bananas in many supermarkets –something that was unthinkable 25 years ago.
She recalled the success of the Jubilee campaign, which brought about the cancellation of debt, lifting the burden off the backs of some of the poorest countries in the world. She recalled how significant advances have been made in poverty reduction; in participation by children in Primary education; in gender equality; in access to clean water and in reducing the mortality rate for children. ‘This shows us that progress can be achieved in a generation’. In concluding her talk, she quoted from the founding document of Trócaire which states: ‘Let us never get accustomed to the injustices in this world…and let us never grow weary in the work of setting it right.’ ‘’My wish for everyone here is that we never grow weary; that we see the successes; we see the progress; we see the challenges but that we never grow weary of the work in hand’.
Next up, Richard Moore, spoke about ‘Educating the Heart’ – the cultivation of the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary… for a compassionate citizen’. Richard spoke about ‘educating the heart’ through the prism of his own story. He said his aim was to acknowledge the things in his life that made it possible for him ‘not only to survive being shot and blinded at the age of ten but to actually see blindness as a positive experience’. ‘When you are blind you meet people in a different way’. You experience kindness and love, at first hand. Having experienced such tremendous love and compassion in his own life, as a result of being blinded he wanted to share that experience with others. ‘What I wanted to do was give back the kindness and compassion that was shown to me. He has done this in many ways, including through the work of Children in Crossfire, which he founded in 1998.
Michael Doorly began by asking us to ‘press pause’ on our fears and frustrations and consider some positive news from recent years. For example, every day, last year, another 305,000 people were able to access clean water for the first time; never has child deaths been less common; never before have so many people been literate or lived such long lives. Quoting the journalist Nicholas Kristoff he said ‘despite all the information out there, never have people been so misinformed. And he went on to say that ‘a failure to acknowledge progress leaves people feeling hopeless and ready to give up, while recognising gains made will show us what is possible and spur us on to more’.
Looking at ‘education for liberation’, Michael said that the problem with elitist education is that we are teaching ‘more and more to less and less’. The purpose of education should be ’to empower and liberate’ and we should start by listening. We need to recognise the strengths and resources that people already have and work with them to develop more’.
He referred to the funding deficit for education – there is a $39 billion shortfall in the budget to provide good quality primary education for all. Though this might sound substantial, it is less than half the budget for just one weapons system – the stealth bomber, which is $90 billion.
Meghan Carmody represents a new generation of activists with passion and determination to see our world transformed. Meghan said that the energy for action among young people is really growing and she profiled many young activists to emphasise this point. Under the Schools Climate Action Network, young people are mobilising and striking out for real change in policies and political priorities. Meghan spoke about her work in Friends of the Earth which includes the solar schools project – persuading and supporting schools to place solar panels on their roofs to demonstrate the value of this form of alternative energy. Already schools in every province are involved in a pilot scheme which will be built on in coming years. Meghan’s role is to build activism and leadership to bring about the political will to implement the solutions that exist.
A highlight of the day was an intervention by 10-year old Ruby Jo, who is part of a climate action group in her school called ’There is no Planet B’, which, appropriately was launched on Feb. 14th, Valentine’s Day.
Finally we had Brigidine sister Kay Mulhall who set up the Tallaght Intercultural Drop-in Centre in 2003, the focus of which is to welcome migrants and refugees who are seeking to make their home here. The Brigidine community supported the setting up of this centre. The Centre aims to be a warm and welcoming place where new communities can meet and get to know one another. Kay started her work by listening to the needs which the migrants expressed. Kay says she firmly believes that societies are enriched by sharing cultures, language, food, art and music. The aim of the centre is to build bridges…not walls. Language was identified by migrants as an extremely important skill to have.
When there was an attempt to close down the centre, a great cohort of volunteers organised and resisted and managed to reverse the decision. Kay concluded by saying: ‘we are all part of the one web of life and this web includes our Planet.’
Yemi Ojo, said her experience of the Drop in Centre was that the door was always open and people were always made welcome. It was a place where you could relax and be yourself. Finally, Yemi said that ‘welcoming the stranger’ can be a collective or an individual act: but we all must do our part’