What does it mean to go back to our roots? After our May 1st event, Mark Cumming got thinking about his roots. Here he talks about how Comhlámh is turning itself around for the better.
I got thinking about school days and getting into trouble for being on the wrong side of the 1983 referendum campaign – college days and shimmying up and down lampposts putting up election posters, raising funding for the cleaners in UCD who were being contracted out to an agency employer at greatly reduced terms and conditions and standing outside Cornelscourt with my girlfriend handing out leaflets outside Dunnes Stores calling on people not to purchase South African goods.
But then I grew up, gotta life, gotta job and plugged away for a few years in industry. But the lure of Brazil and Paolo Freire was calling me (and then partner) and after a year of applying to various agencies we ended up in Kenya, not Brazil, a semi-arid area and not a favella! Still I met Freire, not in person but through his ideas that were led in East and Southern Africa through the training for transformation programme of the DELTA network.
Going back to our roots is all about those ideas that Freire championed; going back to the essentials of facilitating people’s participation in making and shaping the world around themselves. It’s about helping people to come together, reflect critically on their situation, pool the resources they had and work together to change this reality. Oftentimes this involved confronting those that did not want change, vested interests or those who could not accept that poor people had the capacity themselves to work for change. This is what good development is about.
I joined Comhlámh before I went to Kenya, my sending agency situated the youth and community work we were doing as part of a wider continuum of looking at change and power in society and in particular considering the interlinkages between our world in the global north and that of the global south. In this way, my placement for two years was set as part of a wider engagement that would continue on my return to Ireland.
In going back to one’s roots it’s good to remember those who have gone before us. If we can see as far as we can see, it’s because we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.
On May 1st last we remembered one of those people in Marius Schoon while in the company of his widow, Sherry, and friends and colleagues including Cathryn O’Reilly one of the Dunnes Stores strikers and Brian Harvey of the ‘Advocacy Initiative’.
It was a special night, it will hopefully inspire the up-coming generation of Comhlámh members drawn now from many different Volunteer Sending Agencies. Comhlámh will work as that ‘space’ in which people can come together and work on those issues they think are particularly important at this point in time. Each generation of Comhlámh has brought something new. Drop in and hang-out in the Marius Schoon Members’ Room and see / create what’s next!