As we move into a new year, it seems appropriate to reflect on the achievements of Exchange House Ireland in 2014 and to highlight our priorities for the year ahead. In many ways, 2014 was marked by change.
Heydi Foster, who led the organisation through some of the toughest times faced by the community and voluntary sector, left the organisation in April to take on a new career challenge. That type of change is never easy for a staff and board. I have to say, though, since coming into the role in May, I have received nothing but support, guidance and engagement from both staff and board, and have enjoyed the challenge of leading the organisation and getting to know the scale and scope of the work. We will be producing an annual report highlighting that work over the course of the next few weeks, but for me, there were a number of highlights.
Throughout the year, I watched staff from our three services work with individuals to increase their chances, achieve their potential and deal with some of the most difficult personal, social and health issues imaginable. Working with local partners, we marked World Suicide Prevention Day with events in Dublin, Kerry and these provided an opportunity for Travellers to come together and open or continue a conversation around the tragedy of suicide. The dedication of our social workers, educators, youth workers, family support workers, mental health specialists, suicide prevention trainer, men's development worker, and addiction counsellors meant that in 2013, Exchange House Ireland met over 8,000 members of the Traveller community. We are still gathering our 2014 data, but my sense is that these numbers will have increased when we finalise them over the next couple of weeks. Of course, all of this has to be administered and managed and the staunch work of our Finance and Administration Manager and EU Project and Policy Officer's work with funders, partners, staff and board is what makes an awful lot of what we do possible.
The National Traveller Education Achievement Awards ceremony in October was a real highlight of the year, with over 50 young people and adults having an opportunity to come together with their families to celebrate their educational achievement in second and third level. Our viral video - #welldone – gave the citizens of Dublin an opportunity to join in that celebration and reached its target audience of over 1000 views on YouTube along with countless shares on twitter and Facebook. Our young people shone in their participation in various events, some even participating in an interview process for the new Ombudsman for Children
Our Sunia Geel 2 project provided an opportunity for us to learn and share learning with partners in Austria, Germany, Italy and Romania around how to really ensure the safety of children, women and families within the context of domestic violence. The leadership of our Family Support and Crisis Intervention team continues to really push this work onto the agenda of the community, service providers, partners and funders across Europe (www.suniageel2.eu).
The Tandem Now project – which came to an end in December – showed real and concrete examples of the results that a focused approach to mentoring young Travellers can have. Again, the work of our Children and Young Peoples’ and Education and Training teams highlighted the importance of culturally appropriate mentoring and the real impact that can have on the life chances and choices of Traveller young people.
Our LeaCoMM project focused on developing an online platform to enhance opportunities for acknowledging, fostering and supporting diversity in educating educators and in classrooms throughout Europe. Our Education and Training team have shown real leadership and commitment to moving this project forward and are currently in the process of piloting the platform with educators throughout Ireland in partnership with organisaitons in Lithuania, Greece, Turkey and Germany. (www.leacomm.eu)
Moving into 2015, as we roll out our new strategic vision document, our main priority will be to sustain and enhance our already existing service provision, but also to look at exactly where, in Ireland, our services can best serve the Traveller community. Building on the excellent work of our Travelling to Well-Being and National Traveller Suicide Prevention Service, we are looking to build frontline, Traveller specific resources in regional hubs around the country. In addition, we have a number of special projects – at the local, national and EU level – which we hope to roll out during the coming months. Essentially, however, we are, as always, remaining true to our commitment to provide Traveller specific, frontline, crisis intervention, family support, youth and education and training services to those most in need within the Traveller community. Within the context of the expectation of the acknowledgement of Ethnic status for Travellers, it looks like it might just be a very exciting year.
Finally, I would like to thank our funders, partners, staff team and board for their unwavering commitment to work of Exchange House Ireland, none of what we do would be possible without it.
May the road rise up to meet us.
Catherine Morley, Chief Executive
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