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Irish School of Ecumenics: Community Service Learning & Reflective Practice in Northern Ireland

Can you really understand conflict resolution and reconciliation unless you learn first-hand how it happens at the grassroots?

The service learning component of the M.Phil. in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, which is taught at Trinity College Dublin at Belfast , is a particularly intense example of student involvement in learning. These students have the chance to develop skills relevant to conflict resolution and reconciliation work, which deepens their appreciation of just how difficult reconciliation is and how deeply ethnic, national and religious differences can be embedded in cultures, even in supposedly ‘post-conflict' settings.

In 2007, Dr Gladys Ganiel established service learning in a module called ‘Reconciliation in Northern Ireland.' Students have demonstrated exceptional enthusiasm and learning from this aspect of the course, so much so that beginning in October 2010 Dr Ganiel will pilot an optional 10 ECTS module, ‘Community Learning and Reflective Practice in Northern Ireland.' This new module includes a placement or internship with a community-based organisation in Northern Ireland which is engaged in peacebuilding and reconciliation work. Local students who already work for an organisation will draw on their experience there, whilst international students will receive placements with partner organisations.

The module runs during the first semester but students have the option of remaining with their organisation throughout the year if they wish. Assessment is based on a substantial piece of written work, such as a piece of research for the organisation, an essay evaluating the organisation, or an essay on reflective practice.

Dr Joseph Cammarano, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Community Service Studies at Providence College, USA, has been an external evaluator of the service learning component of the M.Phil. programme. He says,

In my review of course materials and pedagogy, and upon my visit, I discovered that Dr. Ganiel made outstanding use of these techniques in her course.  The integration of community work into course design was clear, logical, and consistent with approaches utilised by others in the field.  Site assignments were elegantly aligned with the course materials, and a generous variety of choices afforded students ample opportunities to take advantage of this option.  Expectations were made abundantly clear in the course syllabus.  Overall, the design and execution of service learning is an excellent model for other instructors.  The students in the course were universally positive in their assessment of its use, and their comments reinforced my own assessment of the strengths of the use of community based learning for the course.  

This is what past students have had to say about the service learning aspect of the M.Phil. programme in Belfast:

Eileen Paquette,  Class of 2009"The community-based learning component was one of my favourite aspects of the course. My placement at a community development group in West Belfast complemented what I was learning in the classroom in a way that no in-class discussion ever could. It extended theoretical discussion into real-world application and made the course a living curriculum. I would not be as proud of my M.Phil. in Reconciliation Studies had I not taken part in its community-based learning program."

–Eileen Paquette, Class of 2009. Eileen had a placement with Interaction Belfast and is now teaching World Religions, Ethics, and Social Justice at a secondary school in Boston, USA.

Joram Tarusarira, Class of 2009The experience that I got from my placement with the Unity Pilgrims at Clonard Monastery led me to appreciate the possibility of restoring relationships even after hurting each other so badly. Having read and watched news over the years on the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, I thought it would never be possible for the two communities to worship together. The Unity Pilgrims proved otherwise. That experience has helped me realise that the Zimbabwean conflict that has been based on political differences can be overcome if the willingness to do so is there and if the necessary  efforts are undertaken. It's possible to be under one roof and have a common cause even after a conflict. –Joram Tarusarira, Class of 2009. Joram had a placement with the Unity Pilgrims based at Clonard Monastery in Belfast. He is currently the Head of the Civics Department at Silveira House, a Development, Leadership & Peace Education Institute in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Fr. Andrew McMahon, Class of 2009I believe the study and analysis of the various elements of reconciliation and possible approaches to it helped me in the common pastoral task of addressing situations of conflict, serious disagreement and relationship breakdown which are not uncommon in parish life. The treatment of the Northern Ireland situation was very thorough and very balanced and it provided me with a good framework within which to locate my own experiences of the ‘Troubles', my perceptions of the ‘peace process' and my perspectives on future needs at local community level. This has been very relevant to cross-community discussions between Catholic and Church of Ireland parishioners which are currently taking place in the town where I now work and in which I have been taking part.  – Fr. Andrew McMahon, Class of 2009. Fr. Andrew's reflections on working as a local parish priest was his contribution to the community based learning component of the course.

Sample Partner Organisations

  • Centre for Contemporary Christianity
  • Corrymeela Community
  • Irish School of Ecumenics' Education for Reconciliation Programme
  • Healing Through Remembering
  • Interaction Belfast
  • Unity Pilgrims – Clonard Monastery
  • Youth Link

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Last updated 25 May 2010 Civic Engagement (Email).