This year we piloted a real first-time experience for three of our participant Irish teachers: to accompany the Schools Across Borders staff during their school programme work with the participant Israeli school groups in Jerusalem and Palestinian school groups in Hebron.
These teachers came during their February mid-term break; they were: Mr. Eamonn Burke (teacher of RE and History at Fingal Community College), Rev. Peter Campion, teacher of RE and chaplain at The King’s Hospital School) and Mr. Gary White (teacher of CSPE and English at CBS, Colaiste Choilm).
The three teachers co-facilitated the opening sessions of the Israeli and Palestinian school group programmes. They also met and discussed the project objectives and the curricular relevance of the programme to their respective subjects.
The presence of the three teachers served to enhance both their commitment and that of the Israeli and Palestinian teachers and the respective student groups to the programme. Their subsequent feedback in Dublin also served to enhance the commitment of their own respective school groups and wider school communities.
In addition, these three teachers have also expressed their willingness to join our advisory panel of teachers in order to assist our Programme Manager in reviewing and ap praising the format and approach of our Preparatory Module for the Irish and Northern Irish school groups.
Mr. Burke is also willing to pilot the integration of our school programme in the Research Study Report aspect of the History subject for Senior Cycle. We have since started translation of the Israeli and Palestinian history text books which will feed directly into this pilot task.
We would like to thank the three teachers for keeping their word and making the trip happen! We would all like to share the teachers’ reports on their trip, just to prove our point of how successful and worthwhile the experience was.
We look forward now to receiving applications from other teachers to take up the relay for next year’s trip!
Report from Mr. Eamonn Burke, teacher at Fingal Community College, Swords, Co. Dublin
Over the past two years ‘Schools Across Borders’ have organised a programme for my senior R.E. students on conflict awareness. My pupils have been encouraged to research the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the ongoing tensions that persist in Northern Ireland. They have been provided with the opportunity to communicate with peers of their own age from the Holy Land as well as pupils from either side of the sectarian divide in the north of Ireland. They have met visiting Palestinian and Israeli students and held discussions with them. Some of them went to Northern Ireland on a weekend trip that brought them both sides of the ‘Peace Walls’ in Belfast and allowed them to meet teenagers from across the sectarian divide. They have been given a chance to reflect on the complex area of human rights and duties.
Thus I was delighted to be asked to accompany ‘Schools Across Borders’ on a journey to Israel/ Palestine last February. I found the visit to be highly informative and of great educational value. We were given the opportunity of gaining access to schools in Hebron and Jerusalem. We were also given the chance to communicate with Israeli and Palestinian teachers, students and parents about the issue of conflict awareness and the need to recognise the inter-dependence of human beings. We tried to provide these people with some background information concerning the historical roots of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’, as the students taking part in the programme in Jerusalem and Hebron will be investigating the conflict that has blighted that part of our island in recent decades.
We visited the houses of people from both Israeli and Palestinian backgrounds in which we were afforded the opportunity to learn more about what it is like to live in that region. The people we met provided us with great hospitality and explained to us how their lives have been affected by the wars etc that have occurred in the Holy Land since partition in 1948. I found it very interesting to visit a refugee camp on the outskirts of Hebron. We met with families who have been living there for many decades. I found it an emotional experience when I saw pictures of loved ones killed in the conflict displayed on the walls of houses we visited. When we walked through H2, the Israeli controlled area of Hebron, I was struck by the fact that many of the conscripts we saw were still teenagers themselves but yet were armed with machine guns etc. I got a taste of reality when we were visiting the Abraham Mosque as soldiers began military practice manoeuvres and started running down narrow alleyways etc. I also found the experience of going through the Separation Wall and the accompanying security measures to be a concrete reminder of this conflict.
When I returned to Fingal Community College, Swords, Ireland where I am employed as a teacher of History and Religion I reported back to my students about what I had experienced during my trip. I spent a lot of time telling my Sixth Year pupils about what had occurred during the journey. These students had been engaged in this programme for two years and were very interested in hearing about their peers whom I met in Palestine and Israel. I also mentioned what I had learned from my visit to my students in other year groups and classes, as I hope to continue our school’s involvement in this extremely educational pursuit. I also informed the Principal and Deputy Principal (both of whom have been very supportive of our school’s involvement in this project), they in turn brought it up at a meeting of our Board of Management. I had a short article printed in our newsletter in order to provide as many members of our school community as possible with information about the trip. I also reported on it to my fellow teachers both informally and during a staff meeting.
I found it to be of great benefit to meet with teachers from Palestine and Israel. The cross-pollination of ideas that occurred has led to me deciding to encourage some of my Leaving Cert History students to consider doing their Research Study Reports on twentieth Israeli and Palestinian history. I have made contacts with teachers from both nations through my participation in this project. They will be able to direct me towards suitable primary and secondary historical sources that my students could use when compiling their R.S.R. which accounts for 20% of their Leaving Certificate mark in this subject. In turn I could be of help to my fellow teachers in those lands who wish to source books and documentaries etc concerning Irish history. I found the trip to be one of the most beneficial experiences of my teaching career and am grateful to ‘Schools Across Borders’ for inviting me to take part in this cross-curricular, multi-cultural event.
Report from Rev. Peter Campion, Chaplain of The King’s Hospital School, Palmerstown, Co.Dublin.
Travelling with Darran Irvine and the small group of teachers from Irish schools on an eight-day trip to Israel and Palestine in February was a tremendous learning experience for me. We visited families, schools and organisations that were all so well known to Darran; a tourist would never experience the richness of this tour.
While I was in Hebron I was involved in the set up of the opening session of the module for the students who might be interested in the project. I spoke to the Palestinian students and their parents explaining my background and interest in the project, both as an RE teacher and as a chaplain. Having worked in the Ardoyne in North Belfast (1990-1993) I was able to draw from my own experience of working in a troubled area. I spoke informally to many students after the talk and made contacts with the students some of whom I hope to see in Ireland next year.
In Jerusalem, again we were involved with setting up the opening session of the module for the Israeli students and again I was able to talk about my experience, relate my specific teacahing and vocational interests in the project and to get to know the students. I also spoke frequently in conversations to the teachers from both sides which I felt was extremely beneficial. We also had two meetings with either side in which we explained in more detail how we related the project to our specific teaching subjects. This was very instructive as each one of us felt the need to encourage our students to to see the linkage and interdependence between global and local issues. All of us firmly believed that we could each in our own ways try to do what we could to make our subjects more ‘connected’ with the world outside, and that this project certainly provides ample evidence of such possibilities.
On return it was important to give feedback to my school and as I speak to the whole school every day in morning chapel, there was a great opportunity to do a series of talks. I gave a week of talks firstly on my experience in Hebron with the Muslim students and then on Israel and the Israeli students. I hope that I was able to break down stereotypes in the process.
As the trip occurred at the beginning of Lent, I was able to speak to the students in the chapel about the Holy sites mentioned during Holy Week. For me the ancient olive trees at Gethsemane will always stick in my mind. It is so special for me now to picture Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Wailing Wall and the Temple Mount in my mind’s eye and hopefully to bring alive in my teaching these sites that are referred to constantly in the Biblical Texts.
I spoke to the school chapel committee about a girl in Hebron whose family, despite their poverty, really want to send her to university. The committee was very keen on raising funds to help pay for her tuition. So far we have raised over 1,000 euros and we hope to raise 1,000 more before the academic year is finished.
My 6th form Religious Education Leaving Certificate class had travelled to Belfast in January with the Palestinian students investigating religious difference and conciliation. They were keen to hear about the trip because they had become friends with the Palestinian students and compared with them their lives and issues. I put together a slide show of photographs, which I had taken and delivered it in the context of the Leaving Certificate module on Religion and conflict. With my Junior Certificate classes, I put together a PowerPoint of relevant pictures to illustrate our study of world religions.
It was certainly a trip of a lifetime for me and has had a profound effect on how I see the conflict in this area and indeed of my teaching of Religious Education.
Report from Mr. Gary White, teacher at Colaiste Choilm CBS, Swords, Co. Dublin
On the 8th February I flew out to Ben Gurion Airport with two other teachers as part of a group with Schools Across Borders. As an RE and CSPE teacher in Colaiste Choilm, Swords the benefits of the trip are both obvious and numerous. Not only did I observe and further enhance my understanding of the important work of SAB, but I also had the opportunity to co-facilitate two sessions: one with the Palestinian and Israeli groups respectively. Of equal importance were our respective meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian teachers where we further discussed the relevance of the project to our own subjects and the chances that this projected gave us to enliven our teaching and highlight its relevance to our students. Visiting the schools on the project and engaging with other like-minded teachers made it all the project all the more engaging for all of us.
From Jerusalem to Hebron and Bethlehem to Ramallah I was introduced to other locals and contacts, teachers and friends who through their storytelling and willingness to answer our many questions became our consummate tour-guides.
The experiences I received with SAB in Palestine and Israel continue – over two months later – to be relayed in certain of my CSPE lessons including those on conflict, human rights abuses, democracy, human dignity, development and reconciliation; and in the World Religions section of the RE syllabus.
Initially, at least one session with each of my classes was to be devoted to the trip (this was agreed with an enthusiastic management) through a photoshop slideshow. I am currently in the process of preparing a powerpoint presentation with a third year group to have ready for first years in September.