Looking For The Story Inside

 

flats

I have an album
where I keep photos
of places I have lived
places I have visited
people I have known
people I have loved
those photos
those films
are not in a book
not in a computer
not even on a memory stick
I keep them wirelessly
in my mind
By Paul Hansford

 

Every Thursday morning for the last number of weeks, a group have been looking at old photographs in the hope of writing about them.  The white walls of the basement in Number 3 Mountjoy Square are a blank slate, ready to be filled with these pictures, mounted beside the stories, the poems and the memories of the group. The plan is to produce a permanent exhibition of sorts, to bring life to the photographs and create a story from them.

The photographs are mainly of scenes, places and people of 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s Dublin, sourced from local historians, donated from people or taken from newspapers or publications where they have appeared.  For some in the group, they are a familiar picture of their childhood. For others, they know the people in the photographs and talk about what they remember.  For most a photograph inspires a time and a place that they had forgotten about.  We have heard stories of swimming in Spencer Dock, of going into a local shop for sweets like lucky lumps, a stick of rock, a chocolate cigarette.  We have heard about the tight knit communities of the past, how the city was theirs for the taking – collecting old wheels to make a trolley for spinning down hills and over cobblestones, collecting winkles at the beach.  We have heard about mothers hanging out washing and calling from balcony windows to children playing with hoops to ‘come in for their dinner’.

We have heard that our stories are at times different but mostly are all the same.

There is something about looking at an old photo.  There are no words, yet we read it. We make assumptions about the faces staring back at us. We imagine who the people are in it.  We wonder what life was like in the world of the photograph – the shoeless children, the aproned grandmothers smiling as the camera takes a snap. The shoulder-to-shoulder schoolchildren, the surprised old men standing on corners, one with a pipe, looking nonchalantly away from the camera. Or a group of children at the beach. Is the world in the photograph different to our world now and if it is, why?

Everyone has a photograph, people and places they know, of strange characters in the background or curiosities in the foreground. Or if not a photograph, everyone has a memory, a place that they want to write about or learn more from. All of us have questions to be answered – about our family, our community and about our world.

In a way, we ‘read’ photographs to look for the story.  We do the same with the words in a book or in a newspaper article.  We have questions we want answers to. We strive to link what we see to our story. Do we have a similar one? Do we have a different one? What is that about? What is that telling me? What do I understand?

The project has inspired many more questions and avenues of discovery.  What was society like then? How widespread was poverty in the inner city? Why has the area changed so much in the government of Leo Varadkar that has perhaps allowed investors to come in and build fancy new apartments? Someone mentioned that there was a local resident’s community to allow people to air their views. Another asked how much power do locals have anyway about what happens in their street or local area?  One man brought in an article about the housing crisis that we read in the group.

We also had unexpected learning too. Budgeting for one, as we had to work out the cost of buying frames in IKEA! One week a man in the group asked how to trace his family tree. He wanted to find to more about family history on his father’s side.  One woman wrote a story she had forgotten. A story from the dusty corners of her mind about the ballroom in Parnell Street that she frequented in her youth, the place she met her husband. She looked into the middle distance and remembered her youth with a sigh. Her grandchildren were now that age and she concluded that nothing ever changes.

The group have been doing something much more profound and unexpected during this project, having their questions answered and developing their voice and creativity in a supportive environment.  They have begun to unearth a world of possibilities to be read and to be learned about. The world of the personal, the public, a world of education. Learning can open a wealth of conversations – stories to tell and stories to read about. It is only the beginning.

prams.jpg

Shifts in Perspectives: What We Learned From Our Trip To Iceland

 

plates

 

The Thingvellier National Park is one of the most renowned tourist trips in Iceland.  It is about 45 kilometers north east of Reykjavik and part of the very popular Golden Circle tour.  The park marks the ridge caused by the separation of  two tectonic plates, where the two continents have moved – the Eurasian and North American continents. The scenery is stunning, creating an awe inspiring feeling of smallness.  It feels like a glimpse into history, a stunning vista that leaves you feeling this: that our short lives are only drops in the oceans of time.  This, by the way, is far from a gloomy prospect, more of a liberating experience.  It makes you realise with an optimistic sense of urgency that we can only do what we can with the short time that is given to us. It is a reminder to use it wisely.

We in DALC found ourselves in Iceland as part of a trip organised by the Erasmus Plus training programme to attend a three day workshop delivered by Planet Youth.  We had read a little about the Icelandic Prevention Model, as it gained some coverage in the Irish media.  The model was a commitment to reduce substance abuse among adolescents in Iceland.  The rate of teenage drinking back in the late 1990s was much higher and the model was developed as a way of tackling this.

How did they do it and what can we learn?

The model worked by committing to changing the social environment over time. It was a long term preventive plan that believed change was possible.  Instead of relying on the ‘just say no’ approach or on programmes delivered in schools, they decided to take a community approach – namely, to change the environment that would make such misuse impossible, taboo and ultimately unlikely.

We tend to place the responsibility on the individual to carry out their own prevention, but in the Icelandic Model – society is the patient. We know that some individuals and indeed some communities are more at risk of substance abuse and therefore it the culture of a community that needs to change.

Iceland is a story of change – a different story after 20 years.  It is about having the vision to change that story.  In the future, could we be telling a different story in Ireland?

It was this seismic shift that was needed to change the culture that had built up in Iceland and had allowed such misuse among teenagers to take place. The model is set on three pillars – 1. research (collecting data about the issues out there. With information we can examine the realities of our own community, rather than blindly making assumptions) 2. policy changes and 3. dialogue between people who worked for and with young people –  families, schools and communities.

In a nutshell, the model centers about directing adolescents and teenagers towards other pursuits – structured sports and classes.  They provided a Leisure Card that became a national policy used by all young people.  The involvement of the whole community also plays a significant role. Parents need to be involved in positive monitoring of their children, in spending more time with their children – not only for monitoring but to better develop relationships.  It involves having a supportive culture among parents to ensure they all think in the same way about substance abuse, freedom and safety.  It makes it easier to stop your child pushing the boundaries of trying alcohol or cannabis for the first time if all the others parents are on the same page. The model also centers around school engagement and developing positive peer group relationships.

Like all good ideas, entirely simple approaches yet ones that need to be driven by hard work and commitment as well as a positive buy-in from all members of the community.

waterfall iceland .jpg

What application does this model have for us here in Ireland? We know alcohol is a huge part of Irish culture and something we may find hard to challenge. A little like the way they think about guns in the US, we are not aware of how alcohol plays a central role in all our lives and this has to filter down to our teenagers. Some places in Ireland have already began to adopt the lessons from Iceland and many other places we hope will do the same. There is great work being done already through lots of organisations who work in substance abuse prevention and addiction services. Some fantastic prevention work is already being done in schools, families and communities.

The Icelandic model sees society as the patient, rather than blaming the individual for negative outcomes.  The prevention model focuses on altering the social and organisational environment that makes substance abuse impossible.

We as adult educators could begin this shift in changing cultural norms, or in envisaging the possibility of such a change in the first place. We can begin this important conversation and start moving the landscape through local meetings, parenting and education groups, to share the lessons learned in Iceland.

The Icelandic model was rooted in a vision to change the patterns of behaviour and the cultural norms, from government policy, to communities and to families. They had a plan to change what some people initially found impossible.

One evening on our trip, we walked to The Grotta Lighthouse – the place where local Icelanders go to see the Northern Lights. It was one of the coldest walks I can remember. We thought of turning back, we wondered was it worth it. At one point we lost our way as it was dark and Google maps had failed.
Yet our will to see the spectacle of the lights kept us going. We had a plan, we had a goal and so we kept going.  With a sense of purpose and working together, we got there in the end.

It is amazing what can be achieved when we do not lose sight of our vision.

northern lights

Training funded by: 

Image result for leargas

Find out more at:

https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/node_en 

https://www.leargas.ie/

https://planetyouth.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trip to the Planetarium

 

planet 3
Everyone at sometime or another has gazed up at the moon and the stars and wondered what is out there. Well our group was no different as we headed off to the Planetarium in Armagh full of anticipation and wonder. In many ways it was a day of differing firsts for the group. First time in the North for some, first time in Armagh for others and so on.
There was great banter as the bus cruised up the motorway to the North. Suddenly all our phones started pinging as we crossed the invisible border. There were gasps of delight and amusement then people saying “Did we go through the border didn’t see it” or “My phone has just welcomed me to the UK”. More comments as we passed the English flag and the red letter boxes. The bus driver Liam gave us a running commentary on the area as we headed into Armagh Town.
Next stop was lunch at the Armagh City Hotel, an experience we all thoroughly enjoyed. Paddy Minogue’s sister is manageress and ensured we were made very welcome. After a gorgeous carvery we were given complimentary tea, coffee, fruit juice and the most beautiful rounds of homemade shortcake any of us had ever tasted. Everyone enjoyed relaxing over lunch and listening to the different accents of our fellow diners.

planet 1
Then it was on to the main event the Planetarium. On the way we passed the famous Armagh Cathedral and the Museum of the Irish Fusiliers. There were lots of comments on the architecture and the town itself. It would have been nice to walk around but we didn’t have the time. We rounded a corner and there was the Planetarium.
The education team met us in the reception area and explained the agenda to us. We had great fun browsing in the shop (no problem accepting our euros) and exploring the different rooms and exhibitions. After about twenty minutes Heather, our education guide. gathered us all together and took us to the Digital Theatre. We had the experience of our lives. We lay back on reclining chairs and looked up at the huge dome above us. Every one of us gasped in wonder as the dome began to display the universe. Staring at the constellations, The Little Dipper, The Little Bear, Orion – The Hunter, Taurus – The Bull, Gemini – The Twins, we were absolutely mesmerised. Heather described their formations and how far from Earth they are. She also had lots of little anecdotes which she amazed us with. Then came the show ‘Solar Storms in Space’ narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch. It was phenomenal and so vivid we could have been there; none of us could take our eyes away from the dome. We all realised at that point just how vulnerable and amazing our Planet Earth is.

Before we left the theatre we had a ride on the Space Roller Coaster it was incredible, screams, whoops and gasps galore. We exited the theatre with shaky legs, churning tummies and dizzy heads. It was great!!
Heather then proceeded to give us a guided tour of the Planetarium and explained how astronauts function in Space and how the plans for developing Mars are well under way. She told us many fascinating facts about the distance of other planets from Earth and just how tiny our Solar System is in the whole scheme of things. Everyone got a chance to dress up in space costumes (we are never too old to dress up) and some of the group were even serenaded with the lyrics of David Bowie’s ‘Major Tom’ as they donned their costumes. Our laughter could be heard throughout the Planetarium.
All too soon the visit was over and we were once again heading southbound on the bus. Back across the invisible border our phones pinged and welcomed us home. We stopped at a service station for tea and cakes. For some of the group it was their first time in a service station and they marvelled at the amount of food outlets and shops. We arrived back in Dublin about an hour later our heads buzzing with all of the day’s activity. We all agreed that we had had a brilliant day and learned so much.

Below are some comments from the group:

‘I would recommend it to anyone – brilliant very relaxing and educational day’
‘Excellent I enjoyed everything about the day – couldn’t believe what I learned’
‘Wonderful day I loved it – learned so much’
‘I learned so much about what goes on out there – couldn’t believe it
‘Great experience – the dome was amazing, well worth the trip’
‘Fantastic – very educational we all learned from it’

By Carol McDermott, Tutor in DALC

 

planet 4

Learning We Are All The Same

The last few weeks in DALC have been punctuated by a number of intercultural events.  It is a great opportunity to learn about the origins of celebrations and cultural practices that we may wonder about.  Knowing about the strange and the other can eliminate the fear if it.  Moreover, as our society is itself a multicultural one, it is only right that we learn more about the world outside of our own.

Last Friday 1st February, we invited a woman named Hafsa to the centre to deliver a talk all about the hijab.  It was a really interactive workshop.  She asked everyone to write any questions on a piece of paper – no matter how strange or obvious the questions seemed.   Many students asked really practical questions. They covered everything from fashion, the logistics of wearing a hijab, niqab or burka say if you went swimming, (there is a special waterproof version of course!), if you wore it in bed, when and at what times exactly you took it off.  One man asked such entertaining questions! I especially liked his genuine concern in asking if Muslim ladies spent as much time trying them on in shops as some Irish women did when buying clothes.

women s brown hijab
Photo by Liza Rahman on Pexels.com

 

Hafsa was receptive to all and every question and answered them all with an energy and openness that made the unfamiliar more relatable. We got to understand the woman behind the hijab!  It helped to demystify the hijab and to understand that it is purely a symbol and expression of  faith.  I learned that there is a variety of colours it comes in depending on the occasion. I tried on a rather blingy one!   I always thought it was made from a particular type of reverent cloth, special hijab material, yet discovered that most scarves can be worn as a hijab and nijab.   Many older students told me afterwards that they remember women having to cover their head in Catholic churches when they were younger and were struck by how similar it was to wearing the hijab.

In our groups this week we have been learning about Chinese New Year and some people participated in the events in Dublin last weekend.

Today we read all about Valentine’s Day. One student told us that is called Lover’s Day in Nigeria but that it is only celebrated by the younger generation; nod to the fact that we all now live in a global world, thanks to social media, with many places taking the opportunity to capitalise on it with plans to sell cheap flowers and gaudy chocolates to starry eyed lovers.

The reason for the universality of such celebrations is simple; they all centre around a shared interest in family, food, love and togetherness – if we are lucky, things we can all relate to. We can share and learn about our differences but in many ways, we are all the same.

 

Lessons in History for Everyone

 

timeline

Last week marked the 100 years of the very first Dail and my Monday group told me they had planned to watch the event on the news.  This particular group are fantastic. They make my Monday morning very easy as an adult education tutor. They are engaged, interested in any topic and one woman in particular watches the news every day and is great at keeping the others updated on every subject from Brexit to the shark that arrived in the Liffey before Christmas.

I started last week by asking the group, that if it was 2019 now, how would you write the date 100 years ago? Trickier than it sounds.  We can assume that people structure their lives and see things in timelines; that most people would have a vague idea of when things were in history.

Apart from reading about history, I realised that most of us have a basic knowledge from the structure of schooling.  Even in preschool, children make pictures and posters to mark the different seasons and changes of the year – autumn leaves in October, holly in December and daffodils in March.  Throughout school, the different periods of history are covered – from matching pictures in the junior classes under the headings of ‘the past’ and ‘now’ to topics like Ancient Ireland, the Vikings so on.  Yet history is often seen as something linked to formal learning. History is in books and only certain people can access it.

We all have an interest in history even if we don’t know it yet.  Thinking about and engaging in talking about history in the adult learning classroom encourages us to ask questions.

Why are things they way they are? What brings us now to this time and place?

On this Monday, I had planned a reading piece on the Victorians. It was a piece from a former exam paper but a good piece to use as pitched at the right level for the group.   I thought it might be a good way of looking at timelines – reading and talking about the past. I thought it was a good idea to start off with an icebreaker that asked the question:

‘If you could have lived in any period of history, when would it be and why?’

Some wonderful answers:

  • Cleopatra during Roman Times
  • At the 1916 Rising
  • A solider in the British army when it was a great empire. Perhaps based in India
  • The jazz era of the 1920s
  • A Viking
  • A World War 2 code breaker that sings in a Glenn Miller style band
  • 1980s Dublin

We got everyone to rearrange their timeline in the right order. Someone asked what BC meant. A rich and collaborative exercise.

From this, the group spoke about how these histories linked to their own life stories. We had discussions about 1916, one man asked what shops might have been there at the time on O’Connell Street. Another man took his kids on the Viking splash tour last summer. One woman said she saw a program on Holocaust Day and how it related to the war.  One man was a distant relative of Sean T O’Kelly.  One woman remembers the 1980s Dublin of her childhood and how the landscape had changed because of all the housing developments. Someone mentioned Brexit because they thought it was a bad reason to try and get back the great empire that was Britain and wondered if this was the reason why people voted for it?

Lots of questions and more importantly, lots of reasons for researching to discover more – what engaged and active learning is all about. We are planning to do a project to find out more about all the above and perhaps a trip to the Dail and the National Museum.  A history curriculum but this time, one dictated by the group themselves.  A learner centred history curriculum.

Learning can take you on your own timeline. You start off doing one thing and it leads you down other paths.  Or rather, to a crossroads with a sign marked in lots of different places you like the sound of and can’t wait to explore.

stairs dalc

The Wisdom of Mary Oliver

Yesterday, the well known American poet Mary Oliver passed away at the age of 83.  She wrote about such powerful themes as nature, who we are and and our place in the world.  She had been known to keep to herself and allowed her poetry to speak for her.

One of her most famous poems is called The Journey.  It is a wonderful poem that reminds us to listen to our own voice, to not let society tell us what to think.  The poem tells us that the journey we must take in life is never easy.  For many people, the leap into adult and further education is a kind of journey, a leap in to a new world.  A world with only our own voice as our guide.

The Journey By Mary Oliver 

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

 

More quotes by Mary Oliver:

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
― Mary Oliver

 
The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.
― Mary Oliver

 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
― Mary Oliver

 

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.
― Mary Oliver

 

view of empty road
Photo by Nicolas Postiglioni on Pexels.com

The Golden Ticket

 

golden ticket

I never thought my life would be
Anything but catastrophe
But suddenly I begin to see
A bit of good luck for me

These are the words of Grandpa Joe from the much loved Willy Wonka movie as he begins with the song I’ve Got a Golden Ticket. A movie that often airs this time of year, based on the wonderful novel by Roald Dahl.

Literacy, learning and further education is a golden ticket for so many people.  It can open up doors, help them to discover new worlds and areas of interest through reading, give them agency in their lives, help develop a love of words, or writing and expressing themselves on paper that they may not have done before. It allows them to engage in their community, in conversations, as active citizens and informed parents.

The children in the story were lucky enough to find a golden ticket in a chocolate bar. Only five tickets in the whole world, or so the story goes. Yet all around us there are golden tickets. Golden opportunities ready for the taking.

Remember – your golden ticket is yours to spend in whatever way you see fit.  A love for reading? Writing all your wonderful life stories down on paper? Helping children with their homework? Navigating your way through difficult forms? Applying for a new course to change jobs? Reading about history and getting the confidence to visit museums? The joy of learning in a group and with people in the same boat? Finally getting a handle on spelling those tricky words?

2019 – a whole new year awaits and many other opportunities and possibilities to follow.

And the best thing is that there is a golden ticket out there for everybody.

photo of fireworks
Photo by Anna-Louise on Pexels.com