Leaving Cert Exams: 7 Years of Hell in 7 Days

An extremely powerful piece from one of our students.

#butterfly

Leaving Cert Exams: 7 Years of Hell in 7 Days

7 years I have been in the second level education system in Ireland.

7 whole years.

I have undergone 7 years of scaremongering, of judgements, threats and dismission and condemnation.

4 years of being terrified to go to school in case I had forgotten something or had overlooked some work.

4 years of shaking so badly that I physically couldn’t write.

4 years of getting about 3 or 4 hours of sleep on weeknights because I was so scared of the following day.

My experience of primary and secondary education in Ireland has shattered my self-esteem, obliterated my self-confidence and annihilated my sense of my own self-worth.

It has been 5 years since I had my first major panic attack.

17 years of fighting anxiety and depression on my own because my faith in others and my ability to trust anyone with anything had been destroyed.

All of this, and much more, has led up to 7 days. I was given 7 days to essentially prove myself to others, to prove my intelligence and to make my teachers look good. At least, it would have if I had stayed in mainstream school. Most of my teachers there were only concerned that the exam students’ results made them look good in others’ eyes.

In the centre it is different. There is none of that pressure. There is no sense that the leaving certificate is the be-all and end-all of your life. Yes, it is important but your results should not determine your self-worth. For me that was the hardest thing to wrap my head around. I was indoctrined into the educational systems view of academia. I whole-heartedly believed that anything less than 100% means you failed, and because you ‘failed’ then you are worth nothing. Exam results were the only thing that mattered, it was irrelevant whether you were physically and mentally healthy as long as you got 600 points in your Leaving Certificate.

I have fought tooth and nail in order to live up to these expectations and to uphold them. To an extent, I still do believe that exams are the only thing that matters. However, I have to acknowledge that while I know I will not get a ‘perfect’ Leaving Certificate, or even a ‘great’ one, the fact that I went into that room every day and sat there and attempted those exams has to be the most important thing. I gave up striving for 600 points quite a while ago. I have had panic attacks. I have had little sleep. I have had some excruciatingly bad days. But I did it. I fought and today I am 44 days without self harming. I sat my exams, I did what I could. They are nearly over, by 4:31pm tomorrow it will all be over. The Leaving Certificate will be over. That prospect is absolutely petrifying, what now…?

 

 

A Story from Dadaab

In these June days in the Northern hemisphere students are sitting exams. Today, June 9th, Irish students will file into examination halls to begin a grueling three-week marathon of examinations to earn their graduating secondary-school qualification, the Leaving Certificate. The future of many students depend on the grades they achieve. High grades will admit them to desirable courses in the top college; sucess will lead to high-income future careers. For all Irish Leaving Certificate, it is a rite of passage whose iconic status has been guaranteed by generations of anecdotal folklore.

But spare a thought for students in refugee camps world-wide who share a similar passion for life and for a fulfilling personal future. These students may or may not have been lucky enough to have had access to schooling. For many, their schooling will have been interrupted by war, famine, disease, police brutality, racism and the sheer hardship of refugee journeys. Some students – themselves newcomers to Ireland – who sit their exams this morning will have known such horrors in their young life’s journey.

Reading Ben Rawlence’s book, City of Thorns, I came across a story that illustrates the suffering, ambition, and courage of these young students.

Kheyro’s Story

In 1992 the first flood of refugees from Somalia arrived in the North Eastern region of Kenya, making their way to the UN camp at Dadaab, today the largest refugee camp in the world. Rukia, a Somali woman, walked for ten days with an infant girl, Kheyro, on her back. In 2012, Ruykia and Kheyro are still in the Dadaab camp. That was the year Western aid workers were kidnapped by Al-Shabaab. In response to the kidnap, the UN and the NGOs retreated to their compounds. The refugees were urged to fend for themselves.

That same year Kheyro was sitting her Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE). She had been lucky and clever enough to have been among the 500 students who had gained a scholarship to study in the one secondary school operating in the camp. Her mother had spent grueling hot days out in the scrubland beyond the camp gathering firewood that could be sold to pay for a school uniform (€15) and for books. Wood sold at €0.10 per load. Some of the money was needed to purchase two batteries for a torch so that Kheyro could study at night. Sometimes the family went without food to pay for school essentials.

Only Two Ways Out

Kheyro was fired with ambition. She knew, as did everyone else in the camp, that there are only two ways out of the camp: through a UN resettlement programme or through academic scholarships provided by the Canadian government for 20 students each year who achieve the highest grades. For the rest, there is the prospect of a paid job with a UN agency, and, perhaps, eventually resettlement or Kenyan citizenship.

Such was the determination of Kheyro and some of her friends to succeed that in their final examination year they pooled money to pay €6 a month each for the cost of renting a house in the camp where they could study together. Here they studied in the evenings by the light of two naked light bulbs between forty-three students. On achieving success in the KCSE depended Kheyro’s future and that of her family.

Insecurity and Corruption

Beyond the hut where they studied the security situation continued to deteriorate. The exams had started. Kenyan police were on edge and had already begun to treat all refugees in the camp, especially newcomers, as if they were members of Al-Shabaab. Young people were rounded up and beaten. Shacks were over-turned and destroyed. Shops in the camp (we’re talking tin-hut affairs selling basic items) were set ablaze by the police and the tin cash boxes robbed.

That year, 2012, in Kenya’s North Eastern Province, 411,783 candidates were sitting the KCSE. Only one-quarter were girls. Kheyro was up against it. It was not, and could not be, a level playing field. Teachers, examination officials, invidulators could all be bribed. It is alleged that 1.3 million Kenyan shillings (€11,300) changed hands that year in bribes to education officials. Kheyro had nothing on her side except determination, courage and self-belief.

Two days after the exams started, a car carryng exam materials was attacked at a border post with Somalia a few miles from the camp. Al-Shabaan, like their Islamist co-affiliates in Nigeria, Boko-Haram, had quickly understood that the battle against the West could be cheaply ramped up by targetting education facilities. Local radio broadcasted the daily attacks. Luckily, the Kenyan education authorities held their nerve until the exams finished. The following day the first massive IED bomb exploded in the camp.

Aftermath

Kheyro was successful in her examinations. Today, she works as a professional with Handicap International in Kenya and is providing for her family.

Perhaps some Irish students, and others, who are sitting exams in these days may reflect on the challenges facing young people in other parts of the world.

Dadaab Camp, Kenya

Just two days ago the Kenya Government informed the UNCHR that the Dadaab Refugee Camp in northern Kenya would be closed in November 2016. This camp has been in operation since 1991 and has housed mainly Somali refugees. It is home to 320,000 refugees, making it the largest refugee camp in the world. Zataari, the refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan, houses 80,000 people. Dadaab is four times bigger.

While we continue to see the European migration crisis in the headlands and see nightly images of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea being picked up by EU search and rescue ships, we tend to forget the 20 million refugees who lives in protracted situations like those in Dadaab. Around the world some 60 million people are displaced persons caused by wars, famine and climate change crises.

Dadaab camp itself began in 1991 as a refugee camp to house displaced persons from Somali. There were initially 90,000 people in the camp. It has grown exponentially since, its numbers varying with the seasons of the conflict situation in Somalia itself.
kenya_police_dadaab_camp
In the last two years, the Kenyan Government has become increasing convinced that the camp is enabling the presence of Al-Shabaab militants in the area and wants it closed. Kenyan miltiary forces have been engaged for some time in an on-going operation against Al-Shabaab within Somalia itself. MSF personnel have been kidnapped by Al-Shabaab within the camp and sold on to the pirates on the coast.

Damian McSweeney, an Irish Aid representative in the camp and a lecturer at University College Cork, believes that the Kenyan military operation has as its long-term goal the complete refoulement of Somali displaced persons back to Somalia itself. This will expose them to violence, a precarious living environement and, perhaps, a long-term period of insecurity beyond the reach of the humanitarian agencies. Agencies such as the UNHCR are extremely concerned about this evolving situation.

Let us not forgot the Dadaab Camp refugees.

Lessons “Sofia” can teach

Sofia, a virtual child created to give a face to refugee children, haunts Cork Life Centre’s deputy director, Rachel Lucey. Here, she explains why.

Sofia is a virtual child.

She was created by UNICEF Sweden using 500 images of real children in conflict to represent many millions of refugee children globally.

“I am not real I’m the face of all the children suffering from emergencies no one talks about,” the tagline of the campaign states.

But the issues Sofia has stirred up for me are so very real, and her image has haunted me ever since I first saw it.

Sofia not only represents children across the world, invisible in their plights, but those closer to home, the children whose stories are never heard, and who never get the opportunities they so deserve.

Every day in the course of my work, I am deeply privileged to work with children whose human challenges and struggles have left them on the edges of, and eventually outside, the mainstream education system.

When families and children are brave enough to trust you with their stories and journeys and allow you to work with them, that knowledge and privilege drives you to understand, to try to make a positive impact – and to advocate on their behalf.

It is easy to be shocked and disillusioned with the lack of a response and lack of empathy to the refugee crisis and to the suffering of children in any circumstance or any part of the world. How can people not respond?

It is easy to depersonalise what we do not know, what we do not understand, what we have not experienced. But if you meet a Sofia then all this will change, and you will think and worry and feel not just for Sofia, but for all the children in similar circumstances that you have not had the opportunity to meet.

I have never met a child whose story, strength, unique personality and talents did not teach me something wonderful and hopeful about the world, albeit a confusing one that seems brutal at times.

And while I cannot always be certain of the impact we at the Cork Life Centre have made, and always feel we could have done more, I am at least assured these children were given opportunities, became part of a community where they were treasured, valued and where they mattered; where somebody missed them if they did not appear, where there was someone to not just listen but hear them, and where if there was a problem we were always ready to try and work on it together.

So regardless of the onward journey or direction these children’s lives took and even if there are further struggles waiting for them on the horizon, I can feel assured they know our red doors are always open to them.

But as referrals increase and resources remain the same, it is with a heavy heart that I think about all the children I will not meet- those we will not greet at the red door. And there are many. We receive calls almost daily seeking placements at a level of demand we cannot meet. This is one of the most difficult parts of the job.

There are many children in Cork alone –  over 4,000 annually that leave education early  – that we will not meet. Roughly 10% of children in this country do not complete senior cycle education and this figure doubles in DEIS schools. I do not know what all these children look like, and I do not have a Sofia to represent these many faces and stories. But I know without hesitation there is something good to be unlocked in each one, if only we work to find the key.

We need to move beyond statistics and stereotypes and recognise the individual needs, strengths and rights of all children to learning environments that meet their needs not just educational but social, personal and human.

Every child deserves a champion, deserves at they very least their ‘one good adult.’ But how are we going to achieve this if we do not recognise them individually? This for me is what Sofia represents. An attempt to recognise not just a collective story, but each individual one.

By corklifecentrein Children, UncategorizedApril 20, 2016708 WordsLeave a commentEdit

Protection of Migrants and Refugees

In 2011 with the collapse of Libya the international media focused on the hunt for Moammar Gaddafi who was eventually chased down to a storm drain near the sea-coast town of Sirte. During all this time and since there has been very little reporting of the human tragedy unfolding for countless innocent civilians. Among these are the migrant workers, many of them from Bangladesh, who suddently found themselves stranded at desert oil-well facilities. As these were over-run they took to the desert and headed for the coast or west to Tunisia, or even further west, to Morocco.

With the collapse of regimes across North Africa countless thousands of migrants have been on the move. Add to that number the Trans-Sahara migrants coming up from countries like The Gambia, Burkino-Fasso, Mauritania, Chad, Mali and the Ivory Coast. In 2011, according to the UNHCR, approximately 61,000 people trekked across North Africa to the coast. It is as if a whole continent is on the move.

Faced with this human tide heading for the Libyan coast and transiting by boat across the Mediterarranean, the EU has responded with strengthened controls. FRONTEX, already established in 2004, beefed up its patrols in 2012 to deter migration by sea from Libya. Italy deployed its Mare Nostrum initiative as a search-and-rescue opoeration in 2013. However, this was abandoned and a series of high-profile humanitarian disasters at sea involving boats foundering in heavy seas led to FRONTEX putting in place Operation Triton in 2014.

Although naval forces, including Ireland’s Naval Service, tend to represent their operation as primarily search-and-rescue deployments, the intention still remains the same, to deter migrants from transitting from North Africa.

Foreign workers flee Libya

Externalisation

Since 2004 the EU has followed the Australian example of transferring responsiblity for migration management externally to non-EU countries. This was formalised in 2008 by the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum. Although publicly this arrangment is meant to be a set of protolcs and initiatives for the management of migration, in practice it has become the legal platform for what we now know is an externalisation of border controls and the outsourcing of immigration and asylum policy to countries such as Morocco (in the case of Ceuta) and, more recently, to Turkey in relation to Syrians crossing over to the Greek Islands.

In 2016 EU leaders have effectively set aside the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees in order to justify deporting Syrians back to Turkey, a country where most can’t work legally, despite recent legislative changes; where some have allegedly been deported back to Syria; and still more have been shot at the border (from a report by Patrick Kingsley of The Guardian newspaper).

In Greece the EU has forced the government to detail all asylum seekers arriving on their shores. The northward bound buses and trains are no more. To exacerbate the humanitarian situation on the islands, the EU has reneged on promises to provide humanitarian resources; it is to the credit of the Greek people that they have been so welcoming, providing food and other resourcs to asylum-seekers and migrants from their own resources. Under the terms of the EU-Turkey migration deal babies detained in Greece are being denied access to adequate supplies of milk formula, it has been alleged.

Readmission Agreements

Along with the externalisation of border controls, the EU has also entered into readmission agreements with non-EU source and transit countries, for example, Pakistan, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Burundi, Angola and many, many more. Again Turkey is the primary cntext for this policy at the moment.

These agreements require the countries to “take back” not only their own nationals who have entered and or stayed illegally in an EU Member State, but also any other person in this situation, irrespective of their nationality. Effectively this means that the EU gives these countries a free hand in dealing with returned migrants and refugees. Some become the victim of human rights abuses in these countries. Many can never return to their country of origin. It becomes, in short, a form of imprisonment.

Roger Zetter, writing in World Disasters Report 2012, has said:

By making it almost impossible to seek refuge in Europe we have created conditions where even those who have a powerful claim for protection risk being identified as ‘bogus asylum seekers’ or economic or illegal migrants. As immigration and asylum law become detached from International Humanitarian Law, our responsibility to protect under the 1951 Geneva Convention becomes a matter of political expediency rather than humanitarian obligation.

The bottom-line here is that, despite recent agreements and current policies, we must advocate for a return to full implementation of international refugee law. Equally, EU states must accept full responsiblity for the management of immigration policies – not pass it to other countries. The protection of the full human rights of vulnerable people must remain paramount.

The Great Story of Migration

Out of Africa

Our story as a human species is a story of migration. We came out of Africa some 60,000 years ago from the place where Homo Sapiens first evolved around 200,000 years ago. According to the fossil record this is now understood to be a place called Omo Kibish in Ethiopia.

The story tells us that we left Africa between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago, probably due to some significant climatic shift such as a sudden cooling in the Earth’s climate. Palaeontology suggests that during that climatic event the number of humans dropped to fewer than 10,000. We were barely hanging on to our tenure on the planet.

Exodus

The first group of Homo Sapiens crossed the Mandab Strait, separating what is today Yemen from Djibouti and headed along the coast first to India and then all the way to South-East Asia and Australia. Another group, about 50,000 years ago headed inland to Asia and from there colonised northern Asia and then Europe.

Some 20,000 years ago some of these early people arrived in Ireland and England. During the last Great Ice Age they disappeared completely leaving no trace. About 12,000 years ago the Mesolithic settlers arrived in these islands. In Ireland they settled along the northern coast and along the great inner lake in the Midlands.

It was the development of farming 10,000 years ago that led to the population explosion that eventually gave rise to empires, the great early migration voyages and the spread of Homo Sapiens to the ends of the earth.

The Great Western Migration Story

Another great migration began 500 years ago with the European voyages of exploration and the colonisation by European settlers (the first illegal immigrants) in different parts of the world. Between 1880 and 1930, over 27 million immigrants arrived in the United States, mainly from Italy, Germany, Eastern Europe, Russia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, and Sweden. in 1869, for example, the number of immigrants arriving in the ports of the United States was 352,569. Source: The American Annual Cyclopaedia, 1869.

The Contemporary Story

Migrant_Routes_ Mediterranean 2016_small

The current migration story is just one more episode in that millennia-long history of movement, conquest and settlement. Our contemporary story began after World War II with internal movement of peoples within Europe. To a lesser extent this proves has continued with labour mobility within Europe following the Nice Treaty and the accession of new members of the European Union. In 2013, for example, there were around 7 million EU citizens — or 3.3% of the EU’s total labour force — working and living in a member country other than their country of citizenship. That trend of internal migration has deepened and continued, to the benefit of the host countries.

In terms of sheer scale, however, the present numbers of migrating peoples around the world is unlike anything that we have seen before. So far this year (2016) almost 200,000 people have arrived in Europe from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The story of migration is a human story. It is in our DNA. Huge human, cultural and economic benefits have occurred because of it. The UK National Health Service, for example, the biggest employer in Europe, could not function with the presence of health workers from India and Asia. The challenge for governments and international organisations is to manage this movement of peoples humanely and wisely. So far, we’ve not done a good job as we stumble from crisis to crisis.

We hope for a new story of migration that will place values of compassion, care and understanding at the heart of European policies. Is it too much to ask?

Listen to some TED talks about Migration

History Repeating Itself

Following the Treaty of Paris in World War I, the Greeks were assigned Anatolia as part of Greek territory. This was an Allied response to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Greek armies advanced into Turkey and were roundly defeated by the forces of the Turkish National Front (the group founded by Ataturk). The Greek-Turkish War of 1919–1922 ended with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

The defeat of Greece and the coming to power of Turkish nationalists precipitated (a) the massacre of Armenians and (b) the mass deportation of over one million Greeks from Anatolia. Greeks had been living in that region since ancient times. They were the Greek Christians who had nurtured the early growth of Christianity in Saint Paul’s Antioch. Greek culture marked the region for centuries.

The story of what happened here in 1922 is the background to Louis de Bernières’s novel, Birds without Wings. In that novel, Bernier describes the peaceful co-existence of the three communities of the Book, the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. The destruction of this communal peace is the central theme of the narrative. It is a book remarkably prescient on the elements contributing to our present refugee crisis.

Many of the Greeks expelled from Anatolia landed in the Greek island of Lesvos, which we call Lesbos. Their descendants still live on this island. A striking feature of the current crisis is the extraordinary welcome and openness to the Syrians coming across from the Turkish coast by the people of Lesbos. Although anti-immigrant sentiment is strong in many parts of Europe, there is a remarkable welcome for refugees in Greece, despite their own economic and social crises. It is clear that the historical memory of what happened in 1922 has moved the Greek people and the islanders in particular to being extraordinarily welcoming to the newcomers.

When one unraveled the historic knots of what happened in 1922 one quickly discovers the extent to which the self-interest of the Great Powers played a part in the tragedy. Today, the contemporary descendants of the Great Powers, now acting in consort through the EU, are once again playing on ancient rivalries and ambitions to resolve the European migration problems. On the one hand they are relying on Greek good-will and at the same time turning a blind eye to what is happening in Erdogan’s Turkey.

See the following articles on the web: