Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. As you can see I’m here in the flesh, I’m human and I was born with what they call a conscience.
Being human, one thing we have in common is the ability to voice our thoughts, it came naturally to us surrounded by our immediate family and developed throughout our life. What do we use it for? Reaching out, understanding others, speaking out, maintaining relationships, expressing ourselves. It can bring us deeper into love or it can get us into an awful lot of trouble. And once we’ve spoken, there is no taking it back.
I try to follow best practice, and think before I speak. Lately I’m trying to take this a step further and ask myself, is what I’m about to say going to help or hinder the person or people I’m engaged in conversation with. My conscience has compelled me use my voice and share a testimony with you. A testimony on my first-hand account of embracing the Traveller community of Ireland. To do this I’m going to enlighten you with three stories, one of the present day, another of my recent past and finally a story from my early childhood.
For those here who aren’t familiar with Travellers, they are an indigenous minority ethnic group in Ireland. They make up .7% of the population and have experienced extreme levels of discrimination and social exclusion.
Even with my family knowing my history of engaging with Travellers, some still don’t consider my views on spreading negative stories, bad mouthing, or inciting hatred towards all Travellers based on the actions of one. I recently took a trip home to the midlands and did some visiting with my father. We decided to call to one of his neighbours who has a teenage daughter and have a cup of tea. Sitting around the table a conversation developed on Travellers in the local town.
It wasn’t long before the teenager added to the subject and repeated the negative views of my father and my neighbour. In hopes of preventing the teenager from forging strong opinions on all Travellers based on the conversation, I had to interrupt and offer an alternative view; that surely, they couldn’t be suggesting that one negative story alludes that all Travellers act in the same way. I then added some very positive and inspirational stories of my own interactions with Travellers and left them to it.
When I studied for a Masters degree back in 2011 I lived in Ballybane with my uncle. Lots of Traveller families have settled in Ballybane and my uncle has lived there happily for some time now. For the duration of the course I took on some volunteering and decided to pick something local. I volunteered in a Traveller homework club. There I met the most wonderful children and phenomenal women who were mothers that helped set up the club and sought extra school tutoring for their own children and others in the neighbour, as they were unable to help themselves.
After finding this gem, I sought out my college placement with a Traveller organisation, the Galway Traveller Movement which was an opportunity and experience I’ll always be grateful for. The staff I met of the Galway Traveller Movement are mostly Travellers, Travellers there who were studying at all education levels and were working in a variety of disciplines. On top of that they are fighting for the Travellers that they represent to gain equal access to jobs and services. After an incredible work placement and seeing the workings of the organisation, I then chose the Galway Traveller Movement organisation as my area of research for my thesis. For one year of my life I spent working alongside Travellers, people who inspired me, treated me with dignity and respect and taught me a great deal about life.
A regret and memory that has always been on my conscience is of a school day, I was around eight at the time. It was an all-girls primary school. The infants and younger classes were situated on one side of the main road and on the opposite side of the road was the building for the older classes and our PE hall. On this particular day and like every other PE day, we all had to pair up, hold hands and cross the road.
In our class of twenty or thirty children, one girl was left on her own and not one child was willing to hold her hand. I remember somebody saying or rumouring that she smelled, her hands had warts, and no one should hold hands with her. In the end our teacher forced one of us to hold her hand. Even though this girl was quiet, shy and good natured, still no one would offer to hold the girls hand. All because this little girl was a Traveller. Imagine if that was you or your child.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Thankfully, my conscience has developed over time and reminds me when I meet people that aren’t like me, that we are all born free and equal in dignity and rights. I’m kicking myself for not having the wherewithal to act in a spirit of sisterhood towards that young girl in primary school. I have wondered if those school years had an effect on her and how she feels about us, the settled population.
In my life I have had only positive encounters with the Traveller people and I will continue to use the power of conscience and my voice to support others. All I wish is for people to remember that for every negative story, there are many positives that are untold or unheard of. And one of the most valuable messages I took from the Galway Traveller Movement is that there is only one race, the human race.