They say that you can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes…
– perhaps even a kilometre will do it. A kilometre is the length of trail that skirts around the boundaries of Brigit’s Garden, bringing you through delicate wildflower meadows, bluebell-carpeted forest, elderflower and apple-blossomed trees, past a crannóg and lochán as well as solar panels and impressive hydro-powered structures.
It is stunning for most visitors to Brigit’s Garden. For secondary school students taking part in the Global Goals Challenge, they are asked to walk in the shoes of others and it becomes something radically different.
Before them they see land, ravaged by climate change and conflict, that needs crossing. They and their family must reach the distant border with hope of some form of refuge.
Yes, of course they’d planted their crop that season- a crop that feeds them both nutritiously and monetarily. But the drought has come and their land has failed them. It is difficult to comprehend how the actions of the world’s richest 10% are responsible for over 50% of the worlds carbon emissions…and responsible then for the changing and increasingly aggressive climate consequences in the global south.
There’s little time to dwell on the unfairness of it. The failed crop has resulted in civil unrest and conflict in the region.
The students become the refugees
The students, embodying the thoughts and feelings of someone seeking refuge, must pack their bags, gather food, water, money and most importantly a phone and begin their journey.
They face their first challenge early on; their phone, which allows them to keep in touch with family and share crucial information about safe and unsafe routes, needs to be charged. By pedalling ferociously on the static bikes, the students turn kinetic energy into electrical energy and so re-charge their phones. It starts a debate too on the amount of energy and resources we use every day. If everyone on the planet lived like we did in Ireland, we’d need at least 3 planets!
Some parts of the country have been hit by flash-flooding, made all the worse by deforestation; trees are like sponges, soaking in excess water. When trees are cut down, there’s nothing left to hold the water. The travellers, after an extensive conversation on the wonders of trees (did you know they communicate via long ‘cables’ of underground fungi?) must use wooden planks and work together to find a way to cross the flooded plain and head north towards the border.
An opportunity for reflection and discussion
Another challenge comes soon enough- they are close to the border and meet many others who are also fleeing the unstable situation. Here, they stay in a refugee camp for several nights. There’s time for some reflection; no one is illegal and seeking refuge is a human right (i.e. being an asylum seeker). Why then, does it feel criminal to want to live lives of dignity? Students reflect on Ireland’s own history and experience of seeking refuge. How is it that such a history hasn’t prevented us from designing an asylum process that aims to deter, rather than welcome asylum seekers?
The challenges continue and students are guided in questioning systems of power. They are encouraged to bring a nuance of thought as well as curiosity and empathy to seemingly black and white dogma and in finding the interconnected reasons why inequality exists. It is easy to feel despondent, but hope comes in informed, collective, solidarity action. This is the students final challenge in the Global Goals Challenge programme offered by Brigit’s Garden. What action will you take to ensure life flourishes fairly for all beings?
After the trip we put our heads together to think of a project that would combine the issues raised on migration and the environment and they decided that they wanted to do a plastic collection drive for preciousplasticdublin.org. They are running a whole-school competition to see which year group can collect the most bottle tops to send for recycling. They will also use some of the tops for works of art to display for upcoming fundraiser for UNICEF (buskathon and no uniform day). It should all come together in the next few weeks and I will send any pics of the results.
Just to thank yourself and all the staff for a wonderful day out in Roscahill, the learning was fabulous and long lasting!
We will be back in touch about another group next year hopefully.
– Marina Keating, Coláiste an Eachreidh. March 2022
Global Goals Education Programme
Our Global Goals Challenge, funded by Worldwise Global Schools, is equipping young people in Galway with the tools needed to be active citizens and achieve the UN sustainable development goals. We are in safe hands but we need many more! Please get in contact with Brigit’s Garden through the form below if you are a young person who’d like to take part in this workshop or you’re a teacher, keen to bring your class group along.