|‘Definition of alchemy - the way two individuals relate to each other; “their chemistry was wrong from the beginning — they hated each other”; “a mysterious alchemy brought them together”’|
In 2001, Holy Cross Girls and Wheatfield Primary Schools in North Belfast drew international headlines as sectarian tensions turned violent within the interface community of Ardoyne. During those tenuous months, all community relations work ceased and little contact occurred between the two schools.
In recent years, however, the two schools and, to a greater extent, the two communities have taken steps to make Ardoyne a safer place to live, as community leaders steadily build relationships and promote participation in cross-community programmes. Holy Cross Girls and Wheatfield Primary School now participate together through several cross-community activities each year, including PeacePlayers.
So far this term, pupils from both schools have participated in multiple PeacePlayers events, including trips to watch the ESPN tournament and attend the Monster Mash and Jingle Ball tournaments. They have even enjoyed a shared pizza party, awarded to the P7 (ages 10-11) class at Holy Cross Girls for their tournament attendance. We are currently half-way through the P7 twinning programme, with only three more sessions to go. We’ve also completed introductory sessions with the P4 (ages 7-8) and P5 (ages 8-9) classes from both schools, as well as a full twinning programme with the P6 classes (ages 9-10) in the autumn.
Last week, we had some great discussions surrounding discrimination and sectarianism as Coach Shannon led the kids in the “Gate Game,” a game where children are unknowingly separated into groups for arbitrary reasons (e.g., girl/boy, blue eyes/brown eyes, dark hair/fair hair and Holy Cross Girls/Wheatfield). One side is deemed the “forfeiters,” who must do push-ups or jumping jacks as punishment. The purpose of the game is to allow kids to experience discrimination and discuss how it made them feel.
This transitioned into the “Line of Sectarianism” activity, where the group reviewed various flash cards with statements describing scenarios such as “a Catholic boy throwing stones at a Protestant school bus” or “a Protestant girl watching the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.” The group then had to then decide whether the statement was “Sectarianism” or “Not Sectarianism.” Ultimately, this activity inspired two thoughtful conversations on a typically challenging topic.
For the first time, we are inviting the pupils from Holy Cross Girls and Wheatfield to join PPI-NI’s Cross-Community League, an evening program where they can meet up with their friends from “the other side” and play basketball. The program will run for five weeks, during which time participants will practice their basketball skills and compete on integrated teams, while furthering their understanding of community relations.
Stay tuned to find out how the kids get on at Cross-Community League, kicking off March 7th.