Journey towards peace: Students reflect on Northern Ireland experience

(Reposted from: Saint Mary’s University. May 20, 2022)

A group of students from Saint Mary’s had a transformative experience when they traveled to Belfast earlier this month.

Peaceful Schools International went on their annual trip to Belfast through the Northern Ireland Conflict Resolution Program, which provides unique experiential learning for Saint Mary’s students.

The program prepares the participants to conduct peace education workshops for elementary school children in Belfast. The students have a full itinerary including workshops, outreach and meetings with community partners involved in peacebuilding, as well as understanding the history and cultural perspectives of Northern Ireland.

“This experiential program is a two-way street,” says Dr. David Bourgeois, Associate Professor/Undergraduate Coordinator, Psychology and faculty advisor in the Saint Mary’s University Northern Ireland Peace Education Program. “While our university students learn a great deal about conflict resolution, peace education, public speaking and the importance of service to others, their individual and collective efforts have tremendous impact in the schools and communities we visit. I remain impressed by the dedication and passion shown by our students.”

Peaceful Schools International has developed strong and unique partnerships with dozens of schools and throughout communities in Belfast. Through this program, students receive the opportunity to learn from a wide range of non-profit organizations in Northern Ireland which deal with post-conflict and sectarian issues.

“It has been my distinct privilege to work and volunteer alongside our Saint Mary’s students again for the 18th year,” says Bridget Brownlow, Coordinator, Experiential Learning: Peace, Reconciliation and Development and Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Education.

 “Our students deserve the greatest respect and admiration for their extraordinary commitment and dedication to promoting the importance of peace education for thousands of children this past month in schools throughout Halifax and Belfast.”

Check out what students have to say about this experience:

“This experience means more to me than words can describe. The work that this program does in the communities of Belfast, is beyond incredible. We work with children that are experiencing the intergenerational trauma of the conflict in Northern Ireland, and to be able to give them even a glimpse of peace through our workshops, is so powerful. I am grateful to be able to bring a smile to the kids’ faces when we walk into their classrooms.”
Meaghan Reardon, Sobey School of Business

“Our team commenced our journey to learn and grow alongside the locals of Belfast, sharing stories, knowledge and wisdom. By discussing our lived experiences, we were able to enhance our learning journeys and embody the true meaning of peace and reconciliation.”
Kyle Cook, SMUSA VP Advocacy, Faculty of Arts.

“I was fortunate to connect with the faculty and students at ‘Bunscoil An tSleibhe Dhuibh’ primary school. As an Irish Studies student at Saint Mary’s who is learning the Irish Language. I was privileged to experience first-hand an Irish language primary school and utilize my Irish language skills with the students during our peace education workshops.”
Liam Mason, School of Business

“Having the chance to impact hundreds of kids positively and seeing how eager they are to learn about how to live in harmony shows how important and impactful empowering others through education is. This opportunity is invaluable!”
– Rashae Hart, Sobey School of Business  

“The teachers are not only dedicated to the students, but to the community. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this entire experience, it’s that teachers have the most important job in the world. The value of their contribution cannot be overstated.”
Maggie Kelly, Faculty of Science

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