Celebrating 30 years of the MS Readathon: Over 10,000 Irish children set to take part

Celebrating 30 years of the MS Readathon: Over 10,000 Irish children set to take part

What? The MS Readathon takes place annually, with more than 10,000 young readers in schools around the country taking part last year, reading 87,000 books in total and raising funds for people with Multiple Sclerosis in their community.

Who? MS Ireland is the national organisation providing information, vital services and support to the MS community. Multiple Sclerosis, meaning ‘many scars’, is the most common neurological disease of young adults in Ireland. MS affects the motor, sensory and cognitive functioning of the body and is usually diagnosed between 20 and 40 years of age. There is currently no known cause or cure for the condition.

When and Where? The Readathon takes place from October 13th to November 13th 2017. Please visit www.msreadathon.ie to find out more. You can register as a school, class or individual.

Why? Funds raised by young readers around the country directly support vital services, for example the MS Ireland Information Line, enabling one-to-one support for those newly diagnosed, physiotherapy and exercise classes to help people with MS remain independent, and respite care. More than two-thirds of the 9,000 people living with MS in Ireland access these resources.

How? Young readers can get their reading lists ready by checking the 2017 lists on www.msreadathon.ie featuring great books for kids from the new to the classics. To get involved with the 30th MS Readathon 2017, visit the websiteFor more information on MS and MS Ireland, visit www.ms-society.ie.

 

At the launch this year, Felicity Dahl marked the milestone for the sponsored reading initiative, along with official proud sponsors, Heinz. Felicity’s late husband, Roald Dahl launched the first ever MS Readathon in 1988, beginning three decades of adventures in reading.” Over the past 30 years, MS Readathon has encouraged children all across Ireland to make friends with books and the reading habit whilst raising funds for a highly worthwhile cause.”

Cecelia Ahern, author, also praised the initiative: “MS Readathon has been so influential in encouraging children to read over the past thirty years. Reading is so important because it broadens our imaginations, and imagination is so important because it give us the opportunity to envision new possibilities, charges our creativity, and enhances our life. ”

 

Suas CEO John Logue gives us an update on the now dual brand of Suas and Stand

Suas CEO John Logue gives us an update on the now dual brand of Suas and Stand

CEO of Suas Educational Development John Logue talks us through Suas’s relaunch into the dual brand Suas and Stand. Suas is our branch focused on children’s literacy, with Stand focusing on engaging young people and students in volunteering, internships, innovation, courses and our new website, Stand News.

Michael defied the odds. At age 8, he was considered a poor reader and struggled in class. We realised
he was finding it hard to concentrate on the books available in school. Knowing he loved comics,
Michael’s reading mentor suggested they try the first few pages of ‘Percy Jackson, The Lightening Thief’. The following week, Michael had finished all 377 pages – something that would continue every week.

When Lucy and Emma felt compelled to take action for refugee rights, we were there to help. To address the isolation and exclusion faced by those living in Direct Provision centres in Dublin, they developed their idea – Connect More Dublin. The project raises awareness of the Direct Provision system. Their hope for the future of Connect More Dublin is to introduce a buddy system that will encourage greater integration between asylum seekers and others in Dublin.

These stories could come from two very distinct organisations – one supporting children’s literacy, the
other enabling changemakers to take action. Yet, both represent stories of progress from one
organisation – Suas Educational Development. This dual focus is a core part of what makes Suas a
unique organisation on the NGO landscape in Ireland. Yet, it poses a challenge when trying to tell our
story to those unfamiliar with our work.

The health and well-being of any organisation is rooted in a collective understanding of why it exists,
who it serves and how it helps them. This is particularly true in the NGO sector. Clarity about these
fundamental distinctions provide the foundation for recruiting volunteers, engaging donors and
meaningful strategic planning. Most importantly, clarity of mission enables key stakeholders and
advocates to tell the organisation’s story to the world.

Today, I want to begin the process of re-telling our story. From today, our work on children’s literacy
and global citizenship will take place under two distinct brands – Suas and STAND. We think these
changes will bring much more clarity to our work and enable us to increase our impact over the months
and years ahead.

These changes also allow us to make a really exciting leap forward in our work on global citizenship. Over the past few months, we’ve been working hard to develop a new platform for our global citizenship work. Today, I want to give you a sneak preview of this new platform – STAND.

 

STAND celebrates the power of ordinary people to change the world. Here, you can share your ideas
about standing up for justice and equality, learn more about global issues, and find out what you – as an
individual and by coming together – can do to take positive action. In the coming weeks, we’ll also be
making some exciting announcements about changes to Suas so be sure to look out for another exciting
update shortly.

The Indian Presidential Elections: A local reaction

The Indian Presidential Elections: A local reaction

Ram Nath Kovind, a member of the Dalit community, was elected the president of India on the 17th of July 2017.  Dalits are an oppressed community who are at the bottom of the Indian caste system. The caste system is a social hierarchy where those at the bottom will always be at a disadvantage when it comes to education, employment and quality of life. The new president is a man who, in a lot of ways, has defied social norms here. He became a prosperous lawyer and served two terms in the upper house of the Indian Parliament before gaining the presidency. However, does that mean he will do anything to improve the lives of his Dalit community?

I’ve met so many people who have lived here their whole lives and after talking to twelve of them this is what I have learned; the Indian president can be considered a ‘rubber stamp’. He has no executive power but many Indians believe that he has the potential to highlight the inadequacies of government policies and inspire citizens through his words. People feel like they can relate to him because of his caste, and nobody I met has denied that the caste system it is very much alive.

 

Here’s what a few of the local people had to say.

“Kovind is media shy, yet an expert on constitutional matters as he was a supreme court lawyer. It is good that he doesn’t play to the gallery…..but now a days we all know that the Bharatiya Janata Party government have attacked massively on the dalits, and so to shift the eyes of the common people away from their attacks, I think they nominated Kovind” ~ Ushasi – Female student at Jadavpur University

 

“The Indian president is not only a source of veto but also a source of inspiration to Indian educated youths…..It is not necessary that an Indian president should be selected from a political base. He/she may be a writer, musician, economist or scientist. But he/she should be an inspiration and have efficiency to use his/her veto power to save the vulnerable section in the Indian society” ~ Kamalika – Educational Coordinator at Sabuj Sangha

 

“I think the caste system is very much alive in India. People still take pride in being born as an upper caste here. Having Dalits in government positions cannot radically change the thought process of people who are still embracing the caste system” ~ Sachin Dinesh

 

And on the subject of social change in India, there were the following thoughts.

“Everybody needs a dream, then it’s easy. Just one small step, small steps all the time. And then one day you can become a government school teacher” ~ Noorjahan – Teacher with Sabuj Sangha

 

“The educated and passionate youth of the country are the biggest drivers of social change in India”  ~ Tarinee – Female medical student

 

If you would like to support the empowerment of the Dalit community, you can support the Dalit Foundation

Pictured:Ram Nath Kovind. Photo by Terapant; Screenshot by Tiven Gonsalves

Diversity in education creates more than it destroys

Diversity in education creates more than it destroys

Our narrow academic focus reinforces the supposed supremacy of the West, writes DIPO ADEBISI (Photograph by: Jennifer Boyer / Flickr)

“University is a place where one should play gracefully with ideas” Stephen Fry told the Phil at Trinity College Dublin in 2010, imploring the audience to free their minds from the shackles of parochialism and one-sidedness, and to do it with style. However, much of our mind-sets are formed by what we learn in lecture halls, and this informs how we interact with each other outside of them. Scanning through the curriculums of many humanities courses available in Ireland, one can find the same parochialism; the same one-sidedness that Fry advocated against. All too often, non-Western schools of thought are undervalued, non-Western thinkers are ignored, and thus the supposed supremacy of the West (indeed, of whiteness) is indirectly promoted.

The strangeness of this academic narrowness in our so-called “post-racial” age cannot be overstated. It is rarely questioned, although questioning it is not always met with grace, for this is not a harmless, unintentional modern development. Its roots lie in a ruthless colonial worldview which gave birth to a system which overwhelmingly benefits those who are, or can pass, as white (particularly white and male). In order to create a fair society for all, we must acknowledge that we still live in this system characterised by Western superiority and that it results in the following problems in universities.

Firstly, it means many humanities students are not receiving a proper education, in the sense that their minds are not being expanded. Instead, minorities are subtly reminded of their “place” while rich, white, heterosexual men have their egos stroked and their pseudo-superiority confirmed. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with these men but nor is there anything inherently special about them either that would warrant the subjugation of everyone else. They need not feel threatened by the highlighting of and concern regarding their unfounded privilege in society. Diversity, especially in education, always creates more than it destroys.

Secondly, universities do not just award degrees. They are, fundamentally, the physical manifestations of society’s state of mind and, through their alumni, influencers of it. In the current state of mind, people of colour, women (particularly black women) and the LGBTQ+ community are left out by default – fighting for inclusion, continuously defending and justifying their presence and worth. They are encouraged to adopt a victim mentality and are always aware of their “otherness.” Ultimately, one may argue in light of Trump’s election, they are never truly taken seriously.

This is not to promote pessimism. Instead, the intention is to highlight that it will take more than good intentions to change our thinking regarding race, gender and identity – any sensible person knows that we are all equal. What is concerning is that that equality is not always evident in practice – we need to level the playing field, to change our current system to one where no one is privileged or disadvantaged due to physical characteristics which they did not choose to have and often cannot change. There are few better places to start than universities.

Beyond changing the content of courses, however, we find another problem, namely the lack of ethnic and gender diversity among the professors themselves. Although female professors are reasonably, though not optimally, represented in the humanities, they are scarce in the STEM fields. It can be argued that this is a primary reason for many women shying away from the latter – societal pressures, coupled with a lack of women in leadership positions, often cause them to think that certain fields are not suited to those of their gender. This is also true in the case of non-white students, particularly non-white women who face a storm of stereotypes, both gender- and race-related.

Moreover, seeing an increase in the number of professors from previously underrepresented groups, especially at our top universities, sends a message not only to other members of that group but to society as a whole, to rethink their perceptions of these groups. This will not happen overnight but long-lasting, positive change never does. Ours is a society where bigots are enjoying increasingly more airtime than is ideal. Including them in conversations regarding equality and justice may be undesirable, but excluding those deserving of a place is nothing short of damaging.

Protecting academics in the post-truth era

Protecting academics in the post-truth era

Scholars At Risk protects academics, artists, writers, and other intellectuals threatened in their home countries, writes Hiram Moylan

Freedom of speech has been a controversial topic in recent times. As a basic human right, it offers a voice to minorities and critics of society. Conversely, it has granted a platform to those who openly speak of hatred and bigotry.

Despite the progression of society in its ability to accept more varied worldviews in the last decade, there are still a number of violations to freedom of speech internationally. One of these is academic freedom; that scholars may teach or communicate ideas or facts without being targeted for censorship, persecution, or imprisonment.

Scholars At Risk (SAR) has spent nearly two decades trying to protect this freedom. SAR is an organisation dedicated to the protection and support of the principles of academic freedom, along with the human rights of scholars internationally. On behalf of academics, artists, writers, and other intellectuals who are threatened in their home countries, Scholars At Risk arranges their sanctuary at other universities in various countries. The reasoning behind its foundation comes from the occasions when scholars attempt to communicate certain ideas that could impact negatively on authorities or political entities, they can face serious consequences, which include unlawful persecution or even death.

Since its formation in 1999 at the Human Rights Program in the University of Chicago, SAR has assisted in the relocation and protection of over 700 academics. Along with transferring them from unsafe and potentially life-threatening situations, SAR also aids these individuals financially and socially, connecting them with other faculty members in their field.

For example, the research of an unnamed public health professor from North Africa into infant mortality rates lead to the discovery that his government were declaring a much lower figure in official reports than reality. When the professor went public with these findings, he lost his job and was imprisoned by the state. This was one of many cases that led to the foundation of SAR.

Over the past 17 years, SAR has been involved in a number of instances where a scholar’s human rights have been infringed. More often than not, those they work with are facing prison sentences or public disgrace. With this, they have also developed a project known as the Academic Freedom MONITOR run by volunteers worldwide. Researchers identify and document attacks on third level academics in order to develop a better understanding of the nature and reasons for these incidents.

In response to the various attacks, SAR coordinates Action Plans that call upon governments and officials to protect the human rights of members of academic communities. The volatile nature of certain political regimes in our world has left many figures in education fearful to disclose their opinions or research, with SAR’s aim being to protect this supposedly inalienable right. Being students in a western society often leaves us ignorant of the struggles of our peers globally.

In “the era of post-truth”, we need to set and continue the standard of respecting academic freedom. Many of the freedoms we take for granted are not respected across oceans and borders, but this can change. Scholars At Risk has protected academics with the same credentials and views as our own lecturers here in Ireland. In defending the academic freedoms of older generations, we ensure our own freedoms for the future, something that because of the current political climate, we might have to live without.

Scholars At Risk’s network stretches to 400 institutions in 39 countries, and consistently look for volunteer help. See scholarsatrisk.org for details.

Pictured is Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, a law student and activist imprisoned in Thailand for nonviolent expressive activity