Kristina Marcum, a student at Wilmington College, spent seven weeks in Northern Ireland this past summer. This is her description of the experience.
Quaker Cottage (Quakers) is a program that works with families in need. Some have been victims of the ‘Troubles,’ which are the violent or sometimes threatening acts occurring between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. Kids grow up in certain areas and do not mix with the ‘other side’. The schools are segregated and have strong rivalries. One day a heated argument broke out in the back of the bus between a Catholic boy and a Protestant girl because the boy didn’t think the bus was integrated. The girl was very angry that she was accused of being Catholic. These kids were about five or six years old and were already instilled with hatred as products of their environment. Quakers is located on Black Mountain near Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. One side of the mountain leads down to the Protestant side of town the other to the Catholic side.
The Quakers who founded this cottage were neutral during the civil war and promote peace between Catholics and Protestants so they are generally trusted by both sides. Quakers’ run four groups at the cottage: babies, after schools, teens, and mums. There is a permanent worker to head each program and volunteers rotate between the groups. Sharon heads the baby group, Phil runs after schools, Rory does teens, Grant, and recently Sarah, do the mums. During the summer program the groups usually get to go on a trip. The babies will usually go to a park to feed the ducks. Then go on a sleep run on the way back up to Quakers’. The after schools almost always go to a play park as well as going somewhere else like a museum, the beach, Scrabu tower, or a farm. The teens have a little more freedom to choose what they want to do. Most options cannot cost money but occasionally they can choose to go to a movie or ice skating. Other popular teen activities are swimming, going to Newcastle to go up Bloody Bridge and cliff dive, or climb a mountain. The mums have been known to go quad running, ice skating, or pick strawberries. Kids generally get to attend Quakers for a year as a resident. After that they cannot attend regularly in order to give new families an opportunity to use Quakers, though they will be put on a call list and if space becomes available they will be taken out for a day.
For some of these kids the day spent away from their domestic stress is priceless. Also, building relationships with children from different backgrounds creates a start for a new foundation, one based on understanding and camaraderie instead of contempt and distrust. The Irish civil war wasn’t even a hundred years ago. Many families remember grandparents that were in the Irish Republican Army and such, making these issues much closer to home than if the war had been centuries ago. The south is very united, whereas the north is very divided. Northern Ireland will never be able to have better things for itself until there is peace. Only when the people stop fighting amongst themselves can they demand better things for Northern Ireland.
Establishments like Quaker Cottage are the stepping stones to a brighter future in Northern Ireland. A future where the next generations are united instead of divided. Currently, planned riots still occur during parades of ‘patriotism’ but the severity and frequency are decreasing. This year there were only a few hotspots of rioting during the week of the twelfth. I believe that Northern Ireland is working on burying the hatchet. It will still take a little time for everyone to forgive but most families do not want their children growing up in the kind of hostile environment that they did. This gives me hope that one day there will be peace in all of Ireland. This was an invaluable experience for me and I seriously did not want to come home. I would recommend the experience to anyone.
The trip was partially funded by the Isaac Harvey Fund (IHF), a campus organization funded by local Quakers and directed by campus Quakers. The campus statue near the Library is of Isaac Harvey and his wife. Read the description of their 19thcentury trip to Washington, DC near the statue.
All students and employees of Wilmington College are eligible to apply for assistance from the IHF. There were other students in Peru and Nicaragua this past summer. There are approximately two dozen sites where students and employees can spend time.