By David Jo Murphy.
Irish society is becoming more varied and culturally diverse with each passing generation and our schools are at the forefront of these changes. Whilst there is excellent work taking place in schools to ensure that they are inclusive places I still regularly hear terrible accounts from Travellers about the treatment they received in school and the fact they felt that they needed to hide their ethnicity.
Several years ago, in response to the need for schools to be culturally inclusive places the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM) developed the Yellow Flag programme. The Yellow Flag is an eight-step programme that involves students, teachers, and parents coming together to examine the levels of diversity in their schools, address any challenges and problems that arise and find creative solutions based on sharing and enhancing the cultural identities of all those involved.
Travellers’ Voice was delighted when we heard that Irish Traveller TV host and former cover star for the magazine had a landed a much sought after job working on the Yellow Flag programme. I headed into the ITM’s offices in Dublin’s Temple Bar to get the scoop on new developments for Yellow Flag 2017-18.
Margaret McDonagh and Yellow Flag programme coordinator Elva O’Callaghan have a busy year ahead of them as there are currently 78 schools enrolled, with between 11 and 13 joining this year. Margaret was buzzing with excitement at her new job (nothing to do with the empty cans of energy drink on her desk…) and brings a unique perspective to the role. Margaret has previously been involved in work supporting young Travellers in schools in the Fingal area and has seen first hand the problems that can arise from cultural misunderstandings and discrimination. Margaret said; “I’ve seen Traveller children and kids who were from other ethnic backgrounds bullying and name-calling in class, and the root problem was never dealt with. It would have been much better to show the kids that they were both going through similar things and both experiencing discrimination.”
Margaret went on to explain that she had seen examples in schools where “Traveller children and young people who didn’t have a high level of English were left aside in class. The teachers themselves were unaware of their own prejudices. Yet with the Yellow Flag programme, teachers will have an opportunity to explore themselves and develop techniques to reduce prejudice and discrimination in the classroom.”
Elva (Yellow Flag Project coordinator) elaborated on Margaret’s points saying “Throughout the eight-step programme schools gain the opportunity and resources to take stock of how diverse their students are and to follow steps to ensure that cross-cultural learning, inclusiveness, sharing, and a celebration of diversity can take place.”
Travellers’ Voice has previously attended Yellow Flag award ceremonies and the stories were heard on the day were truly inspiring. We heard of young Travellers taking pride in sharing their cultural heritage whilst at the same time getting to learn more about their classmate’s cultural backgrounds. This can take place through art, stories, music, dance and other creative outlets that enhance young people coming together as friends.
A sense of pride in their community is a gift that we can give to them
The Yellow Flag programme is always looking for new schools to get involved and although it began in the primary schools, it has now branched out into secondary schools throughout Ireland. Elva described these schools as “A bit more challenging as young people are going through quite a lot in this age group, but at the same time these are also places where the Yellow Flag can be of huge benefit.” As Margaret said, “A sense of pride in their community is a gift that we can give to them.”
If you wish to know more about the Yellow Flag Programme check out the website www.yellowflag.ie and watch this space for coverage of the awards ceremony in early 2018.