What a day at Cork Life Centre meeting old friends and new!
We opened our day by collecting Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the IHREC, along with many green ribbons at Kent Station. We had been keen to start conversations about mental health by getting involved in the campaign and luckily found the station was well-stocked!
Having spent less than an hour in the very warm, humble and easy company of Emily Logan it became crystal clear why she made the impact she did in her role as Ombudsman for Children. It is unusual to have a talk tailored so beautifully to the work we do as a centre. It is beyond rare having just met someone to have them quote the philosophy of your organisation in their talk and to address your listening students by name and personally acknowledge their individual talents.
As if this wasn’t enough, Emily’s address to staff, students and friends of the centre was hopeful, frank and unapologetically critical where needed. At the heart of what Emily communicated was the importance of the participation of civil society in shining a light on human rights issues, enthusiasm about getting outside the four walls of an office and meeting people working on the ground. To this end she highlighted that the term “human rights” itself can be a barrier for engagement. Put simply, human rights means that each of us count. Where making each person count begins, she asserts, is not in office buildings but closer to home in spaces like the Cork Life Centre. Emily rejected the idea that experiences on the ground are “anecdotal,” allowing license to disregard them.
As a small organisation completely over-run with referrals we cannot hope to cater for, it was heartening to hear that education is very much on the Commission’s agenda. Emily asserted strongly the need for a more balanced education system where children can develop a range of talents. She also noted the need to tackle discrimination in school admissions. One of the problems Emily identifies at government level is a lack of ability to dream big for young people. One of the obvious related points here being that to dream big, big investment would need to follow!
Emily Logan described herself today as an optimist. We come away from our meeting with her today very optimistic about the impact the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is going to make to Irish society with Emily at its fore. It is all too easy to be cynical, to opt out, and as we learned yesterday to be the person who says “Someone should do something about that!”
Our very positive closing note to Emily’s talk today was our Director Don O’ Leary’s assertion that the IHREC is our Commission, it belongs to the Irish people and will be as successful as we allow it to be through our engagement and participation.
We are honoured to call Emily Logan a friend of the Cork Life Centre, hope to continue our relationship and are committed to engaging with the IHREC wherever we can make a positive impact.
The day moved on to old friends and new sparkling talent.
Br Jim Donovan an old friend and regular visitor to the centre lead a small group of staff in a reflection on community, volunteerism and what keeps them coming back as volunteers to the Cork Life Centre. In short the answer unsurprisingly turns out to be the exceptional young people we work with! In what was a beautiful hour we touched on the concepts of home, community, belonging, resilience, being teacher and being taught, receiving more than we give…Still we were not able to pinpoint what is so vital and tangible about our little community. Perhaps for some things there are no words and this is OK.
During our closing 4pm session words and poetry abounded. The launch of our student Amber’s book of poetry entitled ‘Hear Me Now’ without doubt or qualification will be part of this week that will stay with us forever. From the staff member tweeting since early morning from her hospital bed where she was reading Hear Me Now, to Deirdre O’Shaughnessy’s beautiful and insightful introduction about the brave and brilliant work of Amber, to Amber’s own speech which could only be described as stunning!
At 17, Amber not only has her finger on the pulse of youth culture and it’s many struggles, but can convey this in a very unique, raw and refreshingly honest way. I can’t imagine there were many dry eyes in the audience when Amber closed her speech with the words “I am no longer invisible.” It would be rewarding enough to support any student in having their voice heard but Amber’s voice and writing is one we expect to hear a lot more of – starting with her own blog about her poetry, and the launch, which we surely have not just done justice to. Will inform her first thing tomorrow she has a blog to write!
Dr Tony Bates founder of Headstrong @ 11am tomorrow the gifts and wisdom keep coming this week. Join us if you’d like to hear Tony’s powerful insights on Youth Mental Health.