Take 30 Comhlámh members, put them up in the mountains for a weekend and what do you get? Great discussion, inspiration for going forward, renewed contacts and a good dose of banter and fun. Mark Cumming has this report for those that missed it.
Our AGM and members weekend in the Peace and Reconciliation Centre Glencree was just that. The formal business of our AGM saw the arrival of new blood onto our board and thankful farewells to a number of members who are standing down after giving sterling service. Otherwise it was a moment to reflect back on 2014 through reading and sharing the annual report for the year.
Thereafter we got into the discussions and debates about where we are at and where our future is. To support this process, Dessie Donnelly of the Participation and Practice of Rights in Belfast provided some input and facilitated our reflections for the day.
We looked back over our four decades and John Heffernan and Robin Hanan provided some reflections of membership activism; from challenging Reagan in the early 1980’s when he came to Dublin through to supporting Asylum seekers in the mid to late 1990’s – all these stories reminded us of the type of association that we were born of and can build off going forward.
The work of the PPR in Belfast, supporting communities tackle key issues of housing and unemployment amongst other issues reconnected us with the centrality of people led and owned processes. It was refreshing to reflect on people’s ownership of driving change, conducting listening surveys in their communities and documenting progress or the lack of it to hold public officials to account.
The support for people to lead out on their own development journeys, building solidarity, nurturing alternative possibilities and all the time questioning those in power, not just in a polemical fashion but with real data and evidence gathered by those most affected by a situation was a powerful testimony to good development practices.
What did all this have to say to Comhlámh as the association of volunteers and development workers in global solidarity. The comment was made that in light of our present global predicament, we are going full circle, we need to build off our base but do we have the mobilisation we had before?
We looked at our context, while there are fewer longer term volunteers, there has never been a greater number of people working in the Global South from Ireland, albeit on shorter term placements.
There is a huge need to support this sector, ensuring their awareness is critically awakened to the world around them and that pathways for engagement are created. The space for community development has been somewhat squashed by the state that sees the voluntary sector as a space to provide services, but not challenge or represent communities. How then to support short term volunteers, what spaces can be created for them through which they can engage.
The group felt that while times have changed and the issues have changed, Comhlámh has renewed its commitment to hosting a space wherein networks of opportunity are created (The TTP Information Network is an example of this). We can respond to the changing context through enabling new ideas, fostering creativity to emerge out of membership spaces.
This can’t be staff-led but rather needs support. In this way it allows us to be relevant in the current context if membership can be facilitated with resources, appropriate supports and space. We have the strength of being a membership association, we have seen good examples of renewed member led groups such as the Comhlámh Belfast and their work in linking mining in Northern Ireland and Peru.
A number of on-going and new ideas from within membership were shared and discussed – these included:
- Israel / Palestine Dev Ed group – this group has commenced its work and will be needing support from staff to ensure coordination and access to resources
- A number of new ideas were shared – these included fostering a conversation looking at global development practices and its relationship to current Irish community development; work on Asylum/Migrant issues including the immediate crisis in the Mediterranean.
Going forward we resolved to undertake a number of concrete steps:
- We will support the existing groups to better share their activities and learning
- We will revive social nights for people to be able to meet up in unstructured spaces for networking and debate – cheese and wine can get the networking going!
- We will provide an opportunity for those groups interested to meet up with Dessie of PPR to critique their plans and ideas for the coming year.
We look forward to the autumn!
The autumn will start with a bang as we celebrate our 40th anniversary as guests of President Higgins in the Aras on the 8th September.
Culture night will be celebrated in 12 Parliament Street on Friday 18th September.
A member’s group night will take place on Wednesday 23rd September in Belfast and Dublin to help the groups’ make their plans for the coming year and share across each other’s work. Following this night we will see which groups would wish to have a master class in activism with Dessie of PPR.
A cheese and wine night will be planned for Thursday 22nd October – again with a view to bringing people together informally to connect and network.
Roll on our 40th anniversary.