From Galway to Gulu

irish teachers visit Gulu
Rian (left) with students from St Mary Assumpta Secondary School, Adjumani

A group of teachers from the Jesuit schools in Ireland took part in a formation trip to Uganda during the autumn midterm break. The journey was developed as part of an immersion programme for the group, so they could learn about a different culture by spending time in a Jesuit school in the north of the country and observing the dynamic between the staff and pupils in a very different environment. The experience is intended to enrich the teachers and help them to develop concrete strategies to foster Education for Justice in their schools.

Rian Carney, a dynamic and committed music teacher from Coláiste Iognaid in Galway was a lively and engaging presence on the trip, whose passion for her subject is clear. She brought her love of music with her, entertaining all wherever she went – from playing the tin whistle and teaching a class at Ocer Campion Jesuit College to sing Frére Jacques, to leading a singalong for a class of children in a refugee settlement in Adjumani!

Here she shares her thoughts about the trip and the long-term effect it will have in her own classroom:

“I wasn’t in the door five minutes when one of the students stopped me to ask how my trip to Africa went. I simply didn’t know where to start, which is very unlike me. Where should I begin? Should I tell her about Ocer Campion Jesuit College or about either of the schools in Adjumani or maybe the incredible work being carried out by the men and women working at the Jesuit Refugee Service in Kampala?

I knew there and then that I had to be very mindful about how I relayed my experience in Uganda to my students. In all of the classes I had over the next few days, they were very keen to hear about the time I had spent there. As the days passed, I realised that for many of them, it was the first time they were hearing a first-hand account of how difficult life can be for so many people. They listened intently and their desire to help was so heartfelt, it reaffirmed my commitment to hold a school fundraiser.

I am proud of the number of students who are getting involved, and who are so happy to raise some money for teenagers who are less fortunate than themselves. I have also been successful in involving the Ethos and Justice transition year group to help with organising the event.

Rian Carney Teacher
Rian Carney presenting at the Ocer Campion teachers inservice training day

I also feel that bringing the images and videos of our trip into the classroom serve to make it more real for them – it is not just a story about someone who went somewhere far away once. The images offer a tangible connection the fundraising efforts. They have been made aware of the great work being done by the Jesuits and as such, they know where the money they are raising will go, which acts as a further incentive for them to give something back and to realise just how lucky they truly are.

As a music teacher I have incorporated the area of social justice into the Junior Certificate curriculum over the past few years. My trip to Uganda has validated my desire to delve further into that area. From now on, I will encourage my students to research music that speaks directly to them about the issues that highlight the plight of so many in the world today. In sharing my experiences of the formation trip I am convinced that students don’t want to be preached to.

My students are already displaying a genuine interest and concern upon hearing anecdotes of my journey. I feel it helps them to relate to those who are less privileged. My goal is to provide them with the safe space where they can question and explore the role social justice plays in the world outside of their immediate perspective. All they need is a facilitator can direct them while questioning them about their points of view regarding why the world works the way it does and how their generation might challenge the status quo.”

Author: Rian Carney is a Music Teacher at Coláiste Iognáid, Galway