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Irish Tour Day 4 – Women are not "hard to reach"

Updated: May 9

The stunning Irish coast rose up to greet me as I drove the almost three hours from Killarney in County Kerry to Oasis House in Waterford.  The drive offered time to reflect on the wonderful women I had met so far, including the brilliant Helena Kelly in Limerick who spoke about wanting to see Own My Life engaging in the UN’s CEDAW initiative and Katie McCormack who is keen to see Own My Life available to women in prison (a goal we are hugely committed to). 

Oasis House team members, Ruth and Rebecca

On arrival in Waterford, I was warmly greeted by Ruth Rice, Own My Life facilitator and Outreach Worker for Oasis House, and was quickly set up to be the sole speaker to an audience of Own My Life women, workers from local services, and Oasis House’s team and trustees, including their other Own My Life facilitators Rebecca, Rachel and Ardita.

 

It was wonderful to learn that their first Own My Life course had just started, the first one in Ireland where women received our new Irish-context journals (whoop whoop!).  Ruth explained that this first course was being delivered in Dungarvan, a forty minute drive from Waterford City.  While Oasis House’s next course will be run in the city, the Oasis House team were committed to women who are often offered less services were given FIRST access to the course.  It was a joy to learn that already the course had made a difference to women participants, with some women of them travelling to Oasis House that day to join the event.

 

A running theme amongst Own My Life trained services has been a similar commitment to Own My Life being available to women in neglected communities that are often labelled “hard to reach”.  In reality, such a label is more a reflection on those using it than on those who get that label slapped onto them, alongside the equally pernicious one of women “failing to engage”.  Those working to support women and their children need to meaningfully recognise that the failure is not on women; if a service is struggling to engage with particular groups of women, that is not a failure of the women, it is a failure of the service.  It is not women who are “hard to reach”, it is the service who is failing in their ability to reach women.

 

Own My Life has been run on the Shetland Islands, on the Isle of Skye, and with women in rural areas of Wales and Scotland.  I have learned this week of queues of Irish Traveller women excited to start Own My Life, have seen Own My Life contribute to a mixed-sex addiction service build meaningful women only support, and have heard from a Kent-based charity about how Own My Life has been transformative in their work with women who are street homeless. 

 

Our material is fun and engaging. We ensure Own My Life facilitators have strong confidence in the course content, and because the more complex concepts are communicated via short whiteboard animations, facilitators have no anxieties about their ability to explain how trauma affects women’s bodies and brains.  Though our content on sexual violence is explicit, poetry and rhythm makes it manageable; facilitators can be sure they are covering all bases even if this isn’t their specialism.  The Own My Story journal gives women a robust and joy-filled resource throughout the course and beyond (women often tell us that the journal becomes their “life bible” after the course finishes).  All of this means that organisations can be confident that Own My Life will be well received by women.  Facilitators know that the materials will meet women where they are at and all of this means that delivering Own My Life in communities that have often been neglected will be worth the additional work they may not have previously had capacity for.


Me with MEP Grace O'Sullivan

It was wonderful to meet Green MEP, Grace O’Sullivan and her daughters Emer and Momo (who is a model maker and animator). Although other commitments prevented them staying for the whole event, they had come early to celebrate with Oasis House both International Women’s Day and the launch of Own My Life locally. 

 

During my presentation, I shared some of how Own My Life had been developed and included a quote I mentioned in each of my Irish presentations  and often refer to in Own My Life training.  Though sometimes attributed to St Augustine, it is not his words.  I like to think they are the words of a remarkable woman who, like many such women, is unknown to us all, Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage.  Anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

 

I spoke about the need to remain hopeful in our work and lives and after presenting, I met a woman who exudes that hope.  Her name is Beata.  She beautifully paints stones with messages of hope and peace.  Whether donating them to Oasis House for women to choose from or leaving them on local beaches, she explained to me that women will choose the stone that speaks to her heart. 

 

Beata and me, and the stone I chose.
Me, Ruth and the lovely glass plaque

It was an honour to be presented with a beautiful engraved Penrose Crystal plaque from Waterford to commemorate my visit to Oasis House, and to share in delicious food and chats with women and some of their children who had attended the event.  I particularly appreciated the encouragement from one woman to keep being quirky, which reminded me of fashion designer Iris Apfel’s words, which I discovered earlier this week, days after her death:


On the penultimate day of my Irish tour, my heart just gets fuller and fuller.  The organisations investing in Own My Life, the workers who passionately and faithfully deliver Own My Life, the women courageously joining Own My Life or choosing to access support; my heart grows a little bigger with each one I meet. 


Unlike the Grinch, I didn’t start with heart two sizes too small, but I am certainly going to be leaving Ireland with a heart many sizes bigger.


All the blogs from my Irish Tour:

 

·      Day 0 (Sunday) - Travel Travails

·      Day 1 (Monday) - Brilliant Women and My Trusty Trolley

·      Day 2 (Tuesday) - From Teenagers to Tipperary

·      Day 3 (Wednesday) - And My Heart Got Fuller

·      Day 4 (Thursday) - Women Are Not "Hard To Reach"

·      Day 5 (Friday) - Women Are Badass

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