Saint Mary’s students fight racial discrimination with peace

Students with Peaceful Schools International hold conflict-resolution workshops for elementary schools in Halifax and Northern Ireland.

Saint Mary’s University recognized International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Thursday by talking about conflict-resolution strategies used for Northern Ireland schools.

Students from the Conflict Resolution Society hosted the event. The students talked about their experience with two programs they collaborate with, Peaceful Schools International and the Northern Ireland Program.

“One of the things we do is go to local schools to facilitate peace programs here in Halifax first before going to Ireland, so it’s both a local and international program,” said Bridget Brownlow, the conflict resolution adviser at Saint Mary’s University.

The Northern Ireland Program was started at Saint Mary’s in 2004. The program allows students to go to Belfast and gain a better understanding of the conflict and peace process that has happened in Northern Ireland.

“We are passing on the message of what is happening in Northern Ireland because not many people know that there is still conflict,” said Victoria Bell, the student program co-ordinator for Peaceful Schools International.

The conflict in Northern Ireland involves the debate of nationality. The Protestant community believes they should remain a part of the United Kingdom, while the Catholic minority believes they should be a part of Ireland.

There has been a rise in immigration in Northern Ireland, but that has fallen over the last few years due to the violence from the conflict.

“According to the police service in Northern Ireland, in the 12 months between June 2013 to June 2014 the racist incidents have risen by 36 per cent and racist crimes have risen 51 per cent,” said Bell.

During the February break from classes, Saint Mary’s students will go into Northern Ireland elementary schools and hold workshops to help with conflict-resolution problems.

“The workshops that we teach with peaceful schools try to teach lessons to children so they don’t have issues with ignorance, try to teach the importance of global citizenship, caring for one another and accepting one another,” said Bell.

A popular workshop that is used both in Ireland and Halifax is called No Two Alike.

“We ask simple questions like what is similar about us and what is different to bring out built-in stereotypes to discourage it and show them that it is wrong,” said Odane Finnegan, the group leader for Peaceful Schools International.

“We want to show not just the effects of their words but how they say it and the background that is driving the thought process,” said Finnegan.

Saint Mary’s students who get involved with the program go through some training with a professor in the Irish studies department. The co-ordinators and leaders also share their experiences so students have a better understanding of what to expect.

“The best skill we teach is communication and empathy — the ability to effectively communicate and understand how someone is feeling,” said Finnegan.