the evening was hosted by Prof. Iain Atack, Head of the Confederal School of Religions, Theology and Ecumenics.
Rose Foley’s speech is below the photos. Click on a photo below for the large version.
Rose Foley, ISE 1996 Peace Studies graduate, talking at Alumni Gathering on Wednesday, June 26, on the new grounds of the ISE at Trinity College, Dublin:
It’s a pleasure to be invited here today to talk about where my life has taken me since graduating from the ISE in 1996. It’s hard to believe that I graduated nearly 17 years ago, before the Good Friday Agreement and Omagh, before 911 and the Iraq War, at a time when this Internet thing seemed like it just might catch on and I thought that, well, yeah, maybe I should get an email address.
The one-year program helped changed my life both professionally and personally.
Earning a master’s degree in Peace Studies, I learned about Poland and Solidarity from Gillian Wylie, development studies from Iain Atack, and Buddhism from John May. And I got to meet some amazing students from various countries who are still a part of my life. I wrote my thesis about the power and potential of community mediation by researching Mediation Network, a Belfast organization now known as Mediation Northern Ireland. I examined the Drumcree parade conflict in Portadown, comparing and contrasting the use of mediation in 1995 vs. 1996. In 1995, a standoff attracted international attention and Mediation Network facilitated a compromise. In 1996, there was no compromise and violence ensued. During my research, I got to work with the brilliant mediators Brendan McAllister and Joe Campbell – and was duly impressed by the main goal of mediation: to give both parties in a conflict a voice, a safe place to be heard, without casting judgment.
I was so impressed that I decided to become a mediator myself. In 1997, I took my Peace Studies degree and enrolled at Mediation Works in Boston and Cambridge, where I became certified as a co-mediator. I volunteered in the Plymouth District Court, south of Boston, handling small-claims cases such as landlord-tenant disputes and one particular case in which a nursing mother of an infant was arrested for shoplifting by a zealous security guard after her toddler had taken a candy bar. My Peace Studies degree also played a major role in my being hired at The Boston Globe, the largest newspaper in New England, as it helped set me apart from other candidates. I am proud to say that during my 10 years as a copy editor on the Night News Desk, I helped edit the ground-breaking series on the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal. The series was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for Public Service and led to the disclosure of similar cases of abuse, including in Ireland. I truly believe that the publication of the series brought about some peace of mind to the survivors of the abuse.
Later, working as a consultant for the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I wrote and edited a role play about the Northern Ireland parade disputes that was acted out by high school students in both Belfast and Cambridge. The hardest part of writing the descriptions for each character in the role play was the required introduction: a summary of the entire history of Ireland in one simple paragraph.
Still later, my Peace Studies degree came into play again when I was hired by the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts in Boston to coordinate an international writers’ program for four poets from war-torn countries. I worked with embassies in Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Vietnam to organize a nationwide tour for the writers. It was a privilege to help disseminate the poets’ works about the aftermath of war.
However, I learned the most about the study of peace not through a paid position but by volunteering. In 2002, I took time off from the Globe to return to Mediation Network, where I volunteered for six months as an intern and helped implement a parade monitoring program in Belfast. Especially on July 12, the day of the biggest parades, volunteers would stand on both sides of the peace lines on the Short Strand in East Belfast with mobile phones to observe and report any violence that might occur. One day in particular stands out. I was monitoring the nationalist Clandeboye Drive with Masi, a man from Afghanistan, when Patrick of Scotland, who was monitoring the Loyalist Cluan Place, phoned to say that some ball bearings had just been fired over the peace wall that divides the interface. Patrick said the missiles came from the direction of the wasteland area of Clandeboye Drive. Masi and I headed to the scene where we saw a group of 15 or so young men and teenagers. We told the steward supervising the area about the report of the ball bearings in Cluan Place. The steward was furious and didn’t want to believe that there had been violence on his watch. He fired questions at me and Masi.
“Who invited you to come here? Were you here this morning? And will you be back on Monday?” I didn’t blame him for his anger. He was right. Who were we – an American and an Afghan – to be telling him about this place that was his home? I simply answered his questions. “We were invited by the community to come here. We were here until 5 this morning and we’ll come back on Monday – but only if the community wants us to.” The steward turned and went into his house without saying another word. About 15 minutes later, he came back out – with a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits. He went back into his house, again without saying anything, but the point of his gesture was clear. Masi and I started talking to the group of young men and teens who were just standing there and we had a real conversation with them. We asked them their names and how old they were and we told them about ourselves. They couldn’t believe that an American and an Afghan – whose countries had recently gone to war – could work peacefully together. But most significantly, we asked them what they wanted to do with their lives. What did they want to do in the future? I remember one youth said he wanted to work on a cruise ship. The rest? They all said they would be right where they were then – on Clandeboye Drive. They couldn’t envision being anywhere else. I remember feeling stunned by their lack of hope and I learned then that taking away hope is a real act of violence.
Recently, in my quest for peace, I’ve tried to follow more closely the advice of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who advises that peace begins with individuals. I was lucky enough to marry a Galway man last September who also believes in peace. Séamus and I live in the countryside outside Galway City surrounded by cows and sheep and horses and hares. Last month, we went to Louisburgh where Séamus joined in the Famine Walk organized by Afri to commemorate the “death march” of 1849. And last week, we drove the 400 kilometers from Galway to Enniskillen and back in one day to protest the G-8 summit. We felt obligated to voice our objection to the violence of fracking, war, austerity, poverty, and bailouts of the rich. There, we met a group of activists from Leitrim who had put together a giant “missile” of oil barrels and wrote on it: “Drop debt, not bombs.” We met Pearl, formerly of South Africa, who voiced her anti-fracking opinion and then finished with a quiet “Namaste.” And then there were Andrew and Darren Carnegie, a father and son from Glasgow who had been protesting for four days already. Andrew could quote Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and the 20-something Darren attracted attention to his objection to the summit by wearing a G-string covered by a miniature kilt. Although it was true that the number of police patrolling the march outnumbered the number of people marching, I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit of hope that we were still making a difference. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Peace is every step.”