April 5, 2016

Through the Participant's Eyes: Americans in Ireland


Ireland Flag

CIPUSA was very excited about the opportunity to work with our affiliate office, Empower International, in sending American students abroad to learn more about social work practices on a global scale, and hopes to be able to foster similar programs in the future!

How The Social Work Fellowship Trip to Ireland Came About

As told by: Stacy Moreno, Executive Director of Empower International

After I went on CIF Netherlands I was "on fire" to create mutual programs here [in Arizona].  Simultaneously, I started teaching for the very first time, at a local community college called Estrella Mountain Community College.  The 11 Maricopa County Colleges (our district) is actually the biggest in the country!  I took a lot of my passions and interest to the classroom including sharing the importance of looking more globally, and we did interactive global projects...which led the students to comment about the interest they were gaining to meet others and see the world like I talked about. 

A proposal was drafted to see how inexpensive we could make a Spring break trip to learn more about social work globally....and a cohort of 20 students joined me to head to Amsterdam.  It was so successful that 4 months after coming home I was approached to come up with a new destination and new itinerary for the following spring break. 

Welcome to the Ireland program!  With 23 students from 4 institutions and a few professionals on board (8 were returning students), we headed to Ireland to learn about the culture, historical trauma and how it had an impact on people and services.  We look for those with interest in the topics, try to make it low cost as many of the students have been first time travelers, first generation college students, and heavily in the social work field.

Ireland 2016

Noted Cultural Activities

As told by: Pádraic Mac Coitir, Ireland Local, Activist and Walking Tour Guide

After a brief talk with the group about the city, we walked up to Divis Tower—one of the tallest buildings in Belfast, built in the early 1960's. In August 1969 it was the target for loyalists and the local police force, the RUC.  Close to the tower block, a young Catholic boy, Patrick Rooney, was one of the first to be killed in what is commonly referred to as 'The Troubles'.  He was in his family's flat when hit by a bullet fired by the RUC. 
I then gave a very brief talk on the recent history of the city before moving on to the International wall.  This wall has become very famous for its murals.  It is one of the must see parts of the city and is visited daily by many visitors.
We then walked up to a local memorial garden built in memory of local IRA members, where I told the group more about the conflict.  Many photos were taken and after that we walked up to the mural of Bobby Sands.  Bobby Sands died on hunger strike in 1981 and when were standing at the top of the street I spoke to the group about the reasons why he and nine other men died in the H-blocks of Long Kesh.  I was in the prison just before the hunger strike took place so would have known many of those men.

Stacy said the group was looking forward to see the 'peace walls'—a series of border barriers in Northern Ireland that separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.
Walking between places of interest gave me the opportunity to speak again to some of the students about what they were really interested in what they were seeing and hearing.  I am also interested in what people do in their own country so I told them that it was a pity they couldn't stay longer! 
Before the walk came to an end, we stopped at Colaiste Béal Feirste, which is the biggest Irish language school in Ireland. There are 700 students attending it and all of them are fluent Gaelic speakers.
I hope the group had as an interesting time as I had!

Ireland 2016

The Experience Through a Participant's Eyes

As told by: Ana Sanchez, ASU Social Work Student

What was impactful about the trip?

Seeing social work from a different perspective was an amazing experience!  Being able to meet other agencies that focus on social justice was a very enriching part of our trip.  The most impactful part of our trip was learning about the social conflict that exists in Ireland and Northern Ireland, especially discussing the IRA and the thousands of lives lost to fight injustice based on your beliefs.  Seeing their struggles up close was eye-opening, and it encouraged me to learn more about it, while bringing back peace solutions on a micro and macro level. 
Was there a meaningful moment that you can describe?

There were a couple of social enterprises that definitely grabbed my attention.  I kept assuming the U.S. had similar novel ideas like the ones we participated in: hiring homeless people to give a tour of the city, and hiring people with disabilities to manage a small cafe in the National University Galway.  It encouraged me to take action in the United States, while seeking similar ideas I could partake in as volunteer opportunities. 
How did this trip affect you personally and or professionally?

Ireland was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.  It changed me; incorporating the social aspect with its beauty and rich history encouraged me to keep traveling and perhaps revisit the Republic of Ireland.  I am thankful to my group and executive director at Empower International for putting this together, since I would have never had the opportunity to do this on my own. 

Anything else you would like to share?

Visiting Ireland definitely helped me slow down, in a great way!  The United States is often "too driven," something I heard throughout the trip and at times did not understand why being driven was a bad thing.  Eventually I realized what they meant...stop and smell the roses!  Ireland was a beautiful place to stop and view the ocean...the unbelievable sceneries and dreamy green areas.  I was lucky enough to have physically and figuratively suck it all up, and come home with a different perspective.  Life gets too fast paced at's important to slow down and view your home and the good and bad, the strengths and needs, and the beauty of it all. 

Ireland 2016

A Comment from One of The Host Sites

As told by: Sinead O'Malley and Declan Coogan, National University of Ireland, Galway 

It was a real pleasure to have had the opportunity to meet and chat to social work students and practitioners from another part of the world.  While we note there are many commonalities in our mindsets - i.e. human rights and social justice provide the foundations for our thought and practice - however, the way thinking and practice is actually realised is distinctly different.  It was such a rich experience to be able to showcase what we do here and equally and hear and learn all about Arizona.  Finally and most importantly, you are warm and wonderful people - we really look forward to sustaining long-term working and academic relations into the future!

Ireland 2016

Posted by Lindsey Walsh on April 5, 2016 at 4:17 PM in Participant Permalink
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