- Work Placement: Family Carers Cork
Andy and I worked together on a project with the older family carers at the Cork branch of the Irish Family Carers Association. We supported them in their work of preparing for the general election in 2016. Together we facilitated ten workshops on advocacy, during which time we developed a lobbying toolkit, a website and individual stories about their personal experiences. Andy did a great deal of research on policy issues for family carers in Ireland and included a policy section in the toolkit. He had considerable experience of video editing and taught me much about these skills. He worked with the organisation to identify clearly their key advocacy messages and he organised the group to participate in the Global Hub radio show. In his end-of-year report to his faculty he made the following points:
…drafting a civic advocacy toolkit and working on digital stories, for the Family Carers Association, I learned a diverse range of subject matter. I garnered knowledge in every area, it seems, from first-person perspectives of the emotive experiences of those who care for those cannot care for themselves, about the ever-evolving definition of global human rights, how best to approach educating a person (if that exists), and how to collaborate with others in a group setting to draft a collective response to a question posed. In addition, I honed in on my writing and critical thinking skills, as well as work independence, whilst drafting Carer documents and considering how best to assist Ms. Cotter’s academic research.
Clearly Andy was aware of the different layers of learning that occur in service learning of this nature and identifies too different DE competencies, knowledge of human rights issues, collaborative skills, empathy, critical thinking, planning, taking collective action for change.
The importance of relationship was one of the key findings in the work with Andy, particularly with the carers, with whom he helped make a series of digital stories for their election campaign. What struck me as an educator was that we sometimes do not think about the relationship which builds up in making such stories. Very personal stories are being told but also there is the simply the practicality of time. There is of course the learning of work related skills, knowledge about carer issues, collective action, government policy and so on. However, it takes a long time to make a digital story of this kind. We discussed this from time to time because the tendency in a workplace, and particularly for a highly motivated student, is to ‘get the task done’. In one of his radio shows Andy referred to the importance of forming relationship in education:
It’s very hard to showcase a relationship because a relationship by definition is between two specific people and only those two people can really ever – because they’ve experienced it, how can you really show what’s in your mind and your care and your love, if you will, for them. How can you showcase that in a class in a 15 minute or less PowerPoint presentation? In our work, PhD school of education, your PhD collaboration group, bringing in several people from the organisation which I built the relationship with and worked for and helped them put together videos about their own personal histories and talking with them in a familiar way. It shows to other people when they see us being familiar, that he built a relationship with them. Now, they can see how I shared with these people and how it’s special. Not just how it’s special but in this conversation that a gleaming gold piece of information.
Such was the importance of ‘relationship’ in Andy’s formation, that I depicted this too in his panel at the exhibition (see Appendix X.1 image 4). Using Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ fresco painting which is an image of the near-touching hands of God and Adam, I realised that I had used another religious yet human interpretation of Andy’s experience. It is noteworthy too perhaps that when visitors came to see the art exhibition, it was this panel, with the strong relationship images of God and Adam, a women behind a curtain and a crucifix, which was commented upon most. While I found it difficult to find out why, most who commented used the words “connection” or “strong”. One can only speculate but for me, putting the image of the hand of God and Adam was about Andy’s radical love and ability to reach out but also to a sense of the basic human need for connection and relationship. Andy, at that stage back in his U.S. home, was delighted with the depiction.
Aaron was coming from a radical love perspective as expressed for instance by Gomez Gomez (2004/2014). This kind of learning, service to the community, enabled Aaron to express himself in a way which was fulfilling to him. Considering questions like the importance of relationship and the motivation for his service learning, on radio, also helped Andy to reflect, to stop, slow down and consider what was happening and why this learning was happening in the way it was. ‘Slowing down’ became something we also spoke of. One day Andy’s task was to ring the carers to arrange a time to meet them. He was dutifully rushing through the task to make sure he got it done. I could hear some difficulties in communication, partly because of his non-Irish accent and partly because of the hearing difficulties of some carers. We spoke about how in this work, maybe it wasn’t just about ‘getting the task done quickly’, maybe the carers were at home, feeling the need for a chat and maybe they needed that more than anything. It was one of only two times in our year together that Aaron became annoyed. It struck me that it is maybe in moments of discomfort that we find gems of wisdom, all of us. This was a moment of both intercultural and intergenerational learning, one that happened because we were working together on a project and deeper student-focused learning was possible. It is noteworthy too that the carers did tell me later that they couldn’t understand him. This led to an intercultural and intergenerational moment of learning on the carer side too. Aware of his dedication and hard work, they came to a realisation that maybe they were a little harsh, ‘he is here to learn’, and they invited to the Irish music and singing on at the office that day. Andy relished this experience. I felt a little like an intercultural mediator that day.
The other moment of tension between us that year was when I was frustrated and took out my frustration on Andy. He became the teacher by initiating dialogue and reminding me that he was not responsible for my stresses that day. Andy taught me about dialogue many times. On paper he and I were coming from different worlds in many ways, while we shared many value systems, we also had several fundamental differences. One for instance on the theme of the ‘right to choose’ (abortion) was a topic widely discussed in Ireland at that time. While we were never going to be on the same side of that debate, we discussed how it was that we could inhabit the same academic space. At the centre of that learning was dialogue. It was perhaps unfinished dialogue, but it was dialogue none the less.
Andy was also attending the six ‘Cross Disciplinary Group’ (CDG) workshops which formed a hub for participating students to meet. An incident which happened at one of the workshops serves to illustrate one way in which (a) the ‘local’ and ‘global’ can be connected in teaching moments (b) how the ‘local’ challenges some students and why this is important and (c) the value of student-led learning. At one of the workshops two of the family carers, including Kathleen (key community partner) came to talk to the CDG: We were discussing the hidden work of women in economies around the world. When I first informed the group that two family carers would be attending the class, one student said “I don’t want to hear them; I want to hear people who have no voice”. Another student appeared to nod in agreement. Andy, who now knew the women because he had been working with them daily, was highly respectful, supported the two women in their input to the class and ensured that the connections were made between the “local” and “global” issues relating to women’s care work in particular. Indeed there was a sense of pride in his demeanour when he welcomed the two ladies to the classroom. They were also happy to see Andy. Their input covered all aspects of care work in the home. They spoke about their own life experiences in depth, including detailed issues about loss of pension and lack of job security. They talked about the campaigning work of the family carers association and they talked about the policy changes they were advocating for. The ‘resisting student’, who was also of a similar age to our two guests, in her sixties, was quite unengaged in the conversation and asked what its relevance was to DE. It is interesting to observe that because Andy was from the U.S., he did see carers in Ireland as a ‘global’ issue. It was not necessarily ‘local’ to him. The other students, living in Cork, saw this as a ‘local’ issue. However, a point I wanted to stress was that this is a great example of missing the key learning. This is where we could stop and talk about development paradigms and see what the lives of these Cork women and the structures in which they live, have in common with the women we were discussing in Mali. This is why my art exhibition panel number three shows a picture of a Cork women ‘behind the curtain’ (hidden but looking out), alongside the difficult work being carried out by women in Mali. Oxfam were working on a campaign which included highlighting the hidden work of women in Mali. We were able to explore what this had in common with the Carer’s campaign work in Cork, in terms of the relationship between economic growth, forms of political accountability, development of critical consciousness and the impact which collective civic engagement work enables change to happen. Yet somehow for some it was a challenge to hear the extremely well-articulated accounts by two Cork women. This is the kind of reason that underlines the importance of current debates concerning the role of DE in the global North (Khoo and McCloskey, 2015: 1–17). As discussed in the literature review, DE has traditionally focused on the Global South (Daly et al., 2017:16), ‘the local’ has generally been included by means of encouraging learners to take local action for global change (e.g. the fair trade movement) or to encourage learners to explore issues in their country with a view to comparing with other parts of the world (e.g. famine and emigration from Ireland). This example shows why the shift towards focusing on understanding the causes of social and economic inequality, locally and globally is important (ibid).
At this point Andy had been working with the carers for some time and was able to bring in his considerable knowledge of family carer issues in Ireland to bear on the conversation. As part of his work placement I asked Andy to investigate some of the issues we had been discussing in class further and particularly the ways in which making a link between the local and global in the context of unpaid care work was a helpful approach to understanding DE. On my request, he had also been reading about a campaign Oxfam was organising called We Care. Andy read and quoted Eva Feder Kittay in the online class forum, referring to her article “From the Ethics of Care to Global Justice”. He picked up on a point which interested him and referred other forum participants to the final section where he said “you get some interesting thoughts on the local/global”. He was particularly interested in the point about migrant care workers and referred to Kittay:
The challenge comes most directly from the migration of caregivers. These are women who leave home, often for years at a time to travel to wealthy parts of the world, to care for children, the ill and disabled, and the elderly. They leave their own dependents in the care of other family members or still poorer women who lack the resources to travel abroad. The families of these domestics receive the most minimal care. If we want to build a society that is based on a public ethic of care and on a feminism that seeks to benefit all women, it cannot be one where the public support for care benefits dependents and citizens at the expense of migrant women who have to sacrifice their own familial connections in order to support their families (Kittay:118).
Here again he was intelligently trying to find a connection for other students who were interested in migration issues but not necessarily for Irish carers. The forum discussion also allowed us to understand other aspects of this that were of interest or which posed a dilemma. From an educator perspective I felt that I could be student-focused. Andy had struggled with the idea of “paid care work” and I was able to suggest some readings. This was later reflected in another of his forum comments:
I was a bit confused about one thing and was talking to G about it. It’s that I want to see a world where love does matter and love/care doesn’t become something that is commodified…like doesn’t that make it part of a neoliberal thing again? Not sure if I was fully getting the point about unpaid care work…although I get it that women mostly get the brunt of it around the world. G suggested that I take a look at the Cantillion and Lynch book … It does address my question. It talks about “love labor” which is inalienable and non-commodifiable. The issue is not to choose between equality and care but to develop a “connection-based” conception of equality and justice that recognizes that dependency is a typical condition of human life, that dependents need care, and that dependency workers, both paid and unpaid, cannot and will not have parity of participation in social or political life without recognizing the primacy of affective relations in the framing, and misframing, of social justice. Affective relations, and especially love, matter for social justice! Have a look at page 5 where Fraser talks about ’…all jobs would be designed for workers who are caregivers, too; all would have a shorter work week than full-time jobs have now; and all would have the support of employment-enabling services. Unlike Universal Breadwinner, however, employees would not be assumed to shift all carework to social services.’ (Fraser 1997: 61).
- Work Placement: ‘The Global Hub’ Radio Show
Another significant piece of work carried out by Andy for his work placement was to assist with the research and production of several radio shows for the Global Hub show. He was interested in radio and had also secured a work placement on another community radio station. He was attracted by the topics being covered at the Global Hub. He assisted me on many programmes, for instance he worked on a series of programmes on the experiences of Irish development workers, he worked on a programme dedicated to Family Carers Ireland (discussed in chapter 9), he interviewed his own mother in the United States about her role as a mental health advocate and spoke of his own battles with mental health. As part of this work he attended a public meeting of public representatives and NGOs in Ireland working in the field of mental health and he interviewed an Irish political figure.
In his work placement report to his supervisor Andy referred to the series on Irish people who had international experiences such as Irish development workers. He enjoyed working with Tadgh Daly whom he communicated with by way of preparation for the show, a task which included researching and understanding the work of a town planner in Northern Zambia and the work of Irish Aid. Andy enjoyed the “real world” accounts and sent me this anecdote from Tadgh in an email about his work updating housing plan layouts in Kasama:
I hadn’t noticed any lake in this housing development when I’d briefly perused the plans earlier. – “Lads whats the story with the lake?” – “hmmm yeaaaah” (a bit of head scratching commenced) – “Gis a look at the plan there again Tryson willya” (I then survey the plan) – “Lads, there’s meant to be 3 rows of houses right here” – “Oooh…… hmmmm …… ahhh … well yeah that’s the problem with doing the plans from the office” (everyone erupts laughing) Basically nobody had even been out to the site to notice this massive fucking lake in the middle of this piece of land! Initially I felt like Roy in Saipan but after a few seconds I just had to smile. Hilariously farcical.
This is funny, but it is also a story Andy remembered and his conversations with Tadgh about land ownership in Zambia were deeply educational. He was working in a real-world situation, talking to an experienced town planner, in a country with a strategic plan aimed at reducing chronic poverty, vulnerability and inequality. He was also learning about Irish government policy and practice in a country like Zambia.
As part of the UCC cross disciplinary group mentioned above, Andy, along with other students became involved in establishing ‘UCC Friends of Refugees’ (described below). In the context of the radio part of his work placement he worked, alongside other participants, on collaborative programmes about the refugee crisis. He chose to carry out a ‘vox pop’ with students at UCC because he wanted to find out what people knew about the Syrian crisis. As he said in the introduction to his radio piece “I was just curious to what other people and just in the general public thought about Syria”. When asked on radio if the people he met were informed about the Syrian crisis he said:
… people just hear little quick bits from the news and often don’t read into it. People have an idea that the crisis of people leaving Syria, that they need help and a lot of people were empathetic. Like you said, they wanted to know how they’d give help: I’ve tried to put together a little bit of a compilation of resources that I think would help the general public who are curious about how they could help the refugees with donations and actual volunteering in time.
Andy then went on to give a brief synopsis of the current crisis in Syria and how Irish people might help: He explained to listeners that there was a cease fire in place since March but things are still very uncertain. He provided information about the Arab Spring in the Middle East and the origins of protests and rebellions in Syria against the administration of President Bashar Al-Assad and how various rebel factions were fighting in Syria since 2011 and how this led to the breakdown of the country. He explained how the Islamic State, the Islamic terrorist group took over the Eastern part of Syria and Western parts of Iraq “filling the vacuum because of the factions”. He spoke about US and Russian involvement, about how millions of Syrians were leaving as refugees, where they are going to, how minority religious groups were being persecuted and how European borders have been closed to them. He went on to explain how listeners might consider supporting refugees by outlining very well researched options for people with different approaches to helping such as donating to Save the Children, helping the Red Cross at train stations, supporting migrant aid organisation to prevent deaths at sea or “ if you’re a person who’s more a hands-on, more Kinaesthetic in your approach to helping others, there are organisations like Glasgow Solidarity with Caleigh migrants, where someone named Diane and Bob are driving to Caleigh with supplies…or there are lots of different ways that doctors of the world are providing care for vulnerable people in camps… You can go even for the summer to Lesvos in Greece and hand out food or pass out books. One of the issues in the refugee camps is idleness and helping them pass time. There are lots of different things you can do”. In effect Andy was researching for the information he needed, he was creating knowledge and communicating it to others with a view to raising awareness and doing his part in highlighting the global refugee crisis. He was also suggesting practical ways in which others might also take action in any way they could, aware of the different kinds of actions that people might wish to take.
In my quest to understand why students were engaging so well with radio I asked Andy for his view. On this radio programme he said:
I think radio, because we as humans are such visual and we’re auditory, because it’s literally a voice, you hear another human being’s voice and there’s something evolutionary about it that I think to a listener, to someone listening to this radio today will go, ‘they’re human, they’re talking about this Syrian refugee crisis and let’s hear what they have to say’. It’s a conversation almost. A person listening to the radio doesn’t get to respond often, but they’re listening in way that I think if it was just a PowerPoint presentation or website they’re going to look at, it’s more human. Again, it’s a voice.
Proudly and rightly describing himself as a “chief correspondent” in his final work placement report, he reflected that:
Being truly ‘educated’ means realizing—there is so much to learn about the world in which we live and so many ways to learn about the world—one must recognize there are intellectual opportunities outside the classroom worth the work. As such, I embarked on an adventure on this work placement that took me from gathering international perspectives to hearing about domestic affairs from those who are in charge of them to advocating for issues of importance to many interest groups; I have absorbed and processed much about the way the world works from this first-person perspective, by participating in this outside-the-classroom learning experience. Whilst it may sound trite to say ‘I learned a lot’ in an academic course, my intellectual expectations for this particular module went significantly beyond what I might expect, in skill sets gained and knowledge learned, than in the average postgraduate classroom. Why? Because this module was based entirely outside of the classroom; I was able to work at my own, independent pace on helping Ms. Cotter with her global weekly radio program and other contracted projects, learn from others I met who had experience in the international relations field, and develop human relationships with all supervisors—an essential skill of any future career-seeker. As mentioned at the start—learning—means knowing you cannot possible know everything from simply studying one source: you must explore, you must experience, you must take on a work placement!”
Andy also helped greatly in the establishment of the “UCC Friends of Refugees” Group. Along with Claire he did an excellent job of promoting the group with the student body and of organising the public seminar. I noted more than once in field notes, Andy’s enthusiasm, energy and commitment to any task he undertook. The varied tasks, using social media, liaising with other students, deciding on speakers and speaking in public, suited his practical and energetic nature. He also took part in the online intercultural exchange with the Lesotho group but this is treated in more depth in section 8.6 below.
This project involved running a Civic Engagement Leadership Programme with Older Carers, facilitating participants to support other carers in their homes, developing a toolkit to highlight carer issues especially in the run up to general elections and developing a website which show-cases all of the above. It involves using digital-story-telling , video letters and online blogging to enable voices to be heard. The aim is to highlight issues facing older carers and those they care for, a group often hidden due to care-duties and lack of creative, collaborative digital skills.
The project supports older carers’ voices at local & national levels. The aim is to highlight concerns of older carers and older people they care for, particularly with politicians and the media in the run up to elections. Video letters and digital-stories will reach public representatives and policy-makers. The website and toolkit will reach wide audiences.
- Improved civic engagement of older carers and those (older people) they care for on issues which affect their lives and which they can sometimes find difficult to articulate because of barries and challenges;
- Improved civic leadership skills and confidence building for group of ten older carers;
- A direct impact on public representatives, the media and policy-makers who will be made aware from within homes, of the difficulties experienced by our members;
- Improved digital skills or understanding of the creative, advocacty and collaborative use of online tools based on web2 technologies;
- Improvement in lives of carers.