On two separate occasions our group was able to learn about Homelessness through service in Northern Ireland. We met with a representative from Homeless Aware, Paul, and discussed the impacts of homelessness in the city. We met on chilly evenings after 9pm and walked throughout pathways and sidewalks where various people are known to stay for the evening.
A significant impact for our group was the individual relationships that were established between Homeless Aware organization and the people that we met who were sleeping on the streets. Our representative from Homeless Aware, Paul, had a personal relationship with each homeless individual that we came upon and sparked up a conversation quickly with them. Aside from speaking with individuals we also offered folks warm tea, coffee, and sandwiches that we prepared earlier in the day.
As we toured through the city, our students learned the implications of “sleeping rough” or sleeping on the streets. Paul explained to us that folks who are consistently on the streets have a high mortality rate than those individuals who are able to stay in hostels or find shelter elsewhere.
Each group of our students were able to meet a special individual, Catherine Kenny, when we walked through the city in the evenings and again when we visited the Welcome Center (a homeless shelter). We found her to be kind, humorous, and caring. As we walked away, Paul informed us that if Catherine wasn’t off the streets soon, she may pass away. Unfortunately, shortly after returning back to the United States, our students learned that Catherine passed away in a doorway on March 20th. Our deepest condolences go out to her family during this tough time. It was truly an honor to meet Catherine before she passed away.
To learn more about Catherine, please feel free to visit BBC news for further information.
Additional coverage of homelessness and Catherine’s passing was reported on the Belfast Telegraph.
As you explore the city of Belfast, you will see an immense amount of artwork and graffiti on most walls. Most images convey a political message ranging from getting justice for slain family members to promoting peace amongst the Protestant and Catholic communities. It’s important to note that the murals aren’t always found on the Peace Walls but can be seen on many buildings throughout the city.
Our group had several opportunities to see many of the murals and Peace Walls throughout Belfast and inquire the purpose behind these structures. The Peace Walls were erected several years ago during the Troubles as a means for creating a barrier between the fighting communities. Some Peace Walls had to be extended with steel fencing to block projectiles and bombs from being thrown over. We observed one wall that had two levels of steel as individuals found ways to throw objects higher than the current structure.
The Youth Works organization that our group was working with focuses on peace and reconciliation through their programs at their youth centers. The leaders of this organization spent a great deal of time educating our students on the Troubles in Northern Ireland; in particular, the city of Belfast. At the end of our trip, we were invited to a section of Peace Walls where visitors from all over the world come to scribe a message of peace on a section of the Walls. Below you will see our Penn State students writing their messages to the Belfast community.
We had an opportunity to explore the natural landscapes on the coast of Norther Ireland earlier this week. Ireland has beautiful landscapes with rolling hills, scenic mountains, and breathtaking coastlines. We walked in the giant’s footsteps at Giant’s Causeway where legend says giant, Finn McCool walked. This area is a World Heritage site as it is rooted deeply in history and has unique rock formations (caused by volcanic activity millions of years ago). Curious to know more about the legend and rock formations? Feel free to explore here!
The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was constructed by fisherman who used the structure to cross a narrow area to reach their salmon nets. Find out more here!
Many folks may recognize the image of trees below from the popular TV series, The Game of Thrones which features many of Northern Ireland’s beautiful landscapes. But did you know that the Dark Hedges were planted two centuries ago to impress visitors who were traveling the road towards a local mansion? Over the recent weeks, we have learned that bad weather has impacted and uprooted several of the trees. Our group was in awe of the natural beauty and fragility of this particular part of Ireland. Learn more about the Dark Hedges here!
A central theme of this trip is learning the political realities in Northern Ireland. The politics in Ireland are complex and a specific point of interest for the Alternative Spring Break program. As we are learning the system here, our students and staff were pleasantly surprised to see how interested and knowledgeable the Irish are regarding American politics. Our students engaged in a deep discussion of the Presidential debates, candidates, and the upcoming United States 2016 election.