Innovative programs abroad help improve lives

Cynthia Lee Sinclair meets with Andrew Irvine of the East Belfast Mission the UK. – Courtesy of Cynthia Lee Sinclair

While on this study abroad adventure, I have met many brave men and women working on the front lines of domestic violence (DV) and child abuse (CA). I am encouraged and impressed by the  success they achieve despite funding and staffing problems.

I recently visited Northern Ireland, a place known for the violent conflict starting in the 1960s between the Protestants and Catholics. A peace wall was built to separate and reduce fighting between the two denominations.

Andrew Irvine, a Methodist pastor and director of the East Belfast Mission (EBM), a Protestant/ecumenical mission, told me of the current situation there: “The differences between the Protestants and the Catholics have settled down, and there has been peace for many years. But they still close the gates along the peace wall at night. It is mostly just the younger kids, throwing stones at each other. It is these kids that we need to reach out to the most, to teach them that mutual respect is what builds healthy relationships.”

Many churches in Northern Ireland are reaching across the divide to work together, stressing peace in our churches, peace in our neighborhoods, peace in our homes and peace in our relationships.

The EBM counseling and assistance programs serve more than 100 people a year through 16 different programs. Most recipients, if not all, come from some form of domestic abuse situation.

The mission has several children’s programs. One is a homework program that works with at-risk kids, many who come from broken homes and are falling behind in school due to exposure to DV in the home. The program provides a safe place for the kids to get caught up on school work and to receive specialized counseling through early intervention that keep them off the streets.

Some of the children’s programs meet every day; others meet once a week. There are usually 40 to 50 children in attendance.

The programs provide snacks and games and offer children use of a large recreational gym, sanctuary, dance studio and playground.

The EBM also has a residential homeless program that houses individuals in one of its 18 apartments. Many of the residents are escaping DV and are required to work in the restoration shop or in the café and garden. One of the men cooking and running the café was once a homeless addict. Many of EBM’s employees were once recipients of its programs.

EBM has a positive, holistic approach to treating the whole person, instead of just offering a place for counseling. It provides tangible ways for people to change their lives.

After Belfast, I went to Toronto, which is the site of the first DV women’s shelter in Canada. It was opened in the early 1970s and named after the first female Canadian doctor, Emily Stowe. It has provided services to thousands of DV victims.

Canada started outreach programs for DV and CA long before any other country, which may explain why, according to a 2014 World Health Association study, it has the lowest statistics for DV of any country in the world. According to the World Health Association, one in seven women in Canada will experience violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime, which is better than the U.S. statistic of one in four women.

At the University of Ottawa Human Rights Office, I met its director Melissa Charest, who told me about how her office provides many prevention programs for the university and works with students who have experienced violence. She said “The Who Would You Be Willing To Help” campaign  has been the most successful of all her programs. The campaign is similar to the “Start by Believing” campaign recently featured at WCC, which teaches positive, helpful ways to respond to people in need.

These last two stops–Northern Ireland and Canada–have brought a bittersweet close to my study abroad journey. After many interviews and much research on DV and CA, I am flooded with relief and gratitude about what the rest of the world is doing to address these social issues.

Many countries like New Zealand, Italy, France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom appear to be getting more proactive every day, standing up for women’s rights–and more importantly human rights.

I will be compiling an in-depth presentation of the information I have learned on my trip. As a requirement for the Gilman study abroad scholarship, I am required to do what is called a follow on project. I will have a display board in WCC’s study abroad center and will schedule several appearances to share my findings and answer questions about study abroad in general, such as traveling on a student budget or navigating scholarships. Please watch for my follow up article and presentation in the fall.


by Cynthia Lee Sinclair, Ka `Ohana Staff Reporter