Thursday, June 2, 2016

Settling In

After the first week of work, I’ve already learned so much. Between sitting in on various meetings regarding the progress of on-going programs and taking in the sites around the city, I’ve realized that Belfast is not the post-conflict city that I initially thought it was. Conflict here is still a reality for many and it is most evident in the peace walls that form an interface area where the segregated Catholic and Protestant communities meet. A question that I foresee coming up throughout my stay in Belfast is: Do these walls, in their current capacity, maintain peace or tension among the communities living on either side of them? To put it another way: Do these walls keep the negative feelings and sentiments towards the other side out, or do they keep them locked in?
My main assignment for the summer is to assist with Co-operation Ireland’s UN International Day of Peace event that will take place on September 21st. While I am currently unable to share many details about the event, I can say that it is an initiative that seeks to show how important it is to get young people engaged in the peace process and that they are vital to peace-building efforts. Moreover, it will be held at a location in Northern Ireland where major events unfolded during the Troubles from the early 1970’s to the early 2000’s.
Aside from my main project assignment, I have been given the opportunity to assist on other projects that look to engage local and marginalized groups with various Belfast communities. These groups range from young people to women to ex-prisoners attempting to reintegrate into society. With all of the opinions, stories and accounts that I have heard from various individuals involved with these projects I have done my best, and will continue to do my best, reflect and challenge what I haven told just as much as actively listen as each account has a place within the larger narrative.
Outside of work I have taken advantage of any and every opportunity I have had so far to explore Belfast and Northern Ireland. Last Sunday I took a Game of Thrones tour around the coast of Northern Ireland to various sites that have been featured in the television show! We visited so many sites that day. We went to the Cushendun Caves, crossed the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Larrybane Chalk Quarry (that’s obviously the location for Renly’s camp in the Stormlands), Ballintoy Harbour aka the Iron Islands, the Giant’s Causeway (not in the show, but a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the Dark Hedges (the road to King’s Landing). And the best part of it all, we got to wear authentic Iron Island attire and carry swords and shields that were actually used on the show. It was probably the happiest I have ever been!
Next week I expect to dive deeper into my assignments at Co-operation Ireland. Additionally, I look to share more of my travels around Belfast, Northern Ireland and around Europe. I want to end this post with a quote that I read last week that I have been thinking about for a while. 

Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead

Walk beside me; Just be my friend

                                                ~Albert Camus

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