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We Were Radical Once.

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Grainne O’Neill, Comhlámh’s Volunteer Engagement Project Officer, attended the FK Norway 50 year celebrations in Oslo this week, she got a chance to talk to some people who had volunteered back in the early days of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Over the past 50 years a lot has changed, and FK Norway showcased with great honesty the changes that had taken place, while honoring those pioneering volunteers in the 1960s and 1970s right through to the present day and the innovative work FK Norway continues to be involved with.

One lady, who had volunteered in the late 70’s in Kenya, spoke about her experiences of feminism in the country at the time:

“The best feminist magazine I ever read was one called ‘Viva’ which was being produced in Kenya at that time. This was not a magazine made by Europeans or white Kenyans, no, it was made by black women for black women.”

The issue of feminism was one that was alive and well in Europe at that time, but also it seems was present in the south as well. This week the Guardian ran a piece on the British ‘Spare Rib’ magazine (1972 – 1993).

This project of contacting the contributors to the magazine over its 21 year history has documented an important period for feminism, as well as calling for a current magazine and debate on feminism. An example of an issue for ongoing conversation learning from the global north and south historically as well as currently.

The returned volunteer spoke about the radical nature of that time, the people who were involved, the conversations that were happening, often for the first time, on issues about gender, race, class, sexuality… the list goes on.

“We were radical, you know!” she told me proudly, “and yet, I’m sure that volunteering is radical in it’s own way today – we can’t expect volunteers to just keep having the same conversations we were having back in the day”. She hinted at a curiosity to find out what actually are the ‘radical’ issues volunteers are discussing and debating today?

My conversation with this returnee, as well as the wider evening celebrations, led me to consider the dialogue that FK Norway are now having between those early volunteers and those who volunteer today.

Comhlámh, while not quite as long in the field as FK Norway, but who likewise was made up of some very innovative and radical volunteers back in the 1970’s and even today, has the same opportunity – to learn from those early returnees from the 70’s and 80’s. What were their motivations? What was it like to travel back then? What issues did they carry home with them to Ireland? What are they doing now?

Hopefully a conversation for our 40th birthday in 2015.



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