NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - The city of Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, is filled with reminders of violence. It was the site of the infamous Bloody Sunday, the 1972 killing of 13 nonviolent civilian demonstrators by British police forces. Still today, it is not uncommon for violence to break out on some of the main streets between nationalists (mostly Catholic) and unionists (mostly Protestant).
Even the name of the city itself is the source of conflict; most Catholics prefer to call the city Derry, while most Protestants prefer to call it Londonderry.
It was in this sharply divided environment that Amelia Brandt, Hillsboro, completed her senior social work placement this past semester. She worked with the Derry Children's Commission, a nonsectarian institution which provides advocacy and outreach to children of all ages and denominations.
Brandt's various assignments included consulting young people at Catholic and Protestant clubs for older youth, doing outreach at special needs schools and working with children who immigrated to the Derry/Londonderry area from England, Germany, Poland and India.
"I gained the experience of doing social work in a completely different political and social context," Brandt said. "I also had the opportunity to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a very different education system."
At her agency, Brandt worked with three other employees, all Catholic. Despite the tensions that exist within the city, employees of the Derry Children's Commissions try to remain free of religious and political tensions. "They were really good about not bringing sectarian stuff to work," said Brandt. "Within the city, though, there's still a lot of tension."
In April, Brandt participated in a joint conference in Köszeg, Hungary, to discuss U.S.-Europe relations with 50 other students and speakers from 16 different countries. The event was organized by Brethren Colleges Abroad, the exchange program through which she arranged the semester abroad.
"My time in Northern Ireland made me very conscious of people's backgrounds and religions," Brandt said. "That's something I wasn't really used to thinking about."
"It was really a good way to help me look at my own sense of nationalism," she continued, "and the way it has shaped me as a person."
Lessons learned in working with children in Northern Ireland will directly benefit Brandt in her upcoming jobs. Brandt will spend this summer working at the Ella Baker Freedom Schools in Kansas City, a summer educational program predominantly for African-American children funded by the Children's Defense Fund. Starting in August, she will travel to Washington, D.C., for her Voluntary Service (VS) placement, doing case management for children of homeless families.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.