We had our open evening on Friday 11 November 2016. It was a wonderful event!
Here are the lovely words spoken by Seamus Bane at our open evening, for those who didn’t get to be there, it really is a fantastic speech.
Thank you for your kind words Seamus….
Good evening and thanks to Fishbowl Youth Group for the invitation to be here this evening to mark 15 years of youth work by Fishbowl. On behalf of the Limerick & Clare Education and Training Board I am delighted to be here to acknowledge 15 years of amazing creativity, imagination and openness that has underpinned youth work of the highest quality. I would like to particularly thank an exceptional group of adults who have helped to create something quite, quite fantastic in this corner of rural east Clare. I say helped to create because they could not have done it without the amazing energy, curiosity, cooperation and support of the young people that became involved.
In many ways 15 years is not a terribly long time. In other ways a lot can change in 15 years – the smartphone was not widely available in the year 2000, now they are ubiquitous. Listening to the news programmes on Wednesday as the results of the American presidential election became clear, I was struck by lines from a song by The Waterboys;
“we’re living in a strange time, sailing in a strange boat, following a strange star”.
And indeed we are living in strange times and sometimes it is difficult to make sense of all the changes these times bring and the speed at which they happen.
In just three years we will mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While change is part of the human condition those 30 years have been marked by enormous and sometimes very disruptive changes that have had a huge impact on people, communities and states. To give one example the rapid growth of global capitalism has changed the nature of work in the early 21st century compared to 1989. Work has traditionally been an important component of individual identity. As outside forces change the nature of work then the concept of identity will also be challenged. Similarly many of the institutions that people trusted and placed their faith in have been shown to have flaws and have lost the moral authority which helped to bind communities together. Writing in yesterday’s Irish Times, Pat Leahy noted that;
“any society depends on a shared moral framework that embeds ways of behaving towards your fellow citizens”.
Where the shared moral framework becomes shaky or no longer provides credible answers, confusion, uncertainty, and ultimately fear can take root. In 1950 the English philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote:
“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity towards those who are not regarded as members of the herd”.
In an environment of collective fear or where many feel they are being ignored or forgotten, unscrupulous characters who present or perceive themselves as strong leaders, can appear to provide answers and leadership that will restore order and make things great again. These people are prepared to point at others as the cause of the ills that may befall a society. They will, directly or indirectly, imply that the “other” is directly responsible for the unhappy lot that has befallen a society. They will point at those who are obviously different by virtue of skin colour, at those who are numerically weaker, or who are newly arrived in a country and imply “it’s all their fault”. This is a phenomenon that we are seeing across Europe and America and there is considerable concern that it is a growing and a frightening phenomenon.
Addressing such problems is a complicated and multi-stranded task that requires focused and collective action on the part of the community and the state. A key element in this task has to be education and here is where youth work has an important role to play. Under Irish law youth work is defined as:
“a planned programme of education designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young persons through their voluntary participation, and which is—
(a) complementary to their formal, academic or vocational education and training; and
(b) provided primarily by voluntary youth work organisations.
Youth workers are educators who engage with young people who wish to be part of a process that helps them to grow and develop. This is what Fishbowl do. In the way they practice youth work here in East Clare they are challenging fear – the fear of the other, the fear of difference. The group welcomes diversity as something that makes all of our lives richer. Openness to ideas and a willingness to challenge and be challenged are characteristic of the group. They recognise the humanity of everybody – young people are welcomed and accepted for who they are. This is simply the Fishbowl way and this ethos permeates how they do youth work. In this environment young people are learning that they don’t have to fear difference or to fear being different. If a youth group in East Clare can create such an ethos and environment then it should not be beyond the ingenuity of humans to replicate a similar culture in a broader social context. The habits and customs learned here can contribute to creating a better society. The invitation for this evening’s event included a quote from Howard Zinn, the American historian and social activist. The quote reads;
“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
I would add to that quote another from Margaret Mead the cultural anthropologist, also American, who said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”
I congratulate Fishbowl on 15 years of contributing to the making of a better world. What you do is important. The work you do here matters. Long may you continue to carry on changing the world and making it a better place. Thank you.
(Seamus Bane, Youth Officer, LCETB, Clare)