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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2017-08-01 05:47:50



We Can Be


Making a difference in the world isn’t just about changing a profile pic or
using a #PrayFor hashtag. Here’s how to turn your reaction into action!

Jessica O'Sullivan

We’re living in pretty scary A volunteer’s story
times. It seems like every time
we check our feeds something Laura King has volunteered with the Dublin Simon
awful has happened - a terrorist Community for the past three years

attack, a natural disaster or man-made What inspired you to volunteer with so I started doing the Saturday night soup
tragedies like the recent Grenfell Tower the Simon Community? run instead. It’s called the Soup Run, but
fire (or pretty much everything Donald we like to think that we’re providing more
Trump has done since coming into “My mum volunteered with the Simon than just soup and sandwiches. During
office). As well as this there are issues Community in Cork and I knew that they the cold weather we give hats and scarves
that need our attention on an ongoing had a good reputation. With the homeless to people, and also put them in touch
basis - homelessness and women’s rights issue increasing I thought it would be a with other services such as the needle
to name but two. There is no doubt that good charity to volunteer my time with. exchange, or the rough sleeper team. It’s
social media can be an amazing tool Homelessness is something that could also having a chat with people.”
in times of trouble, as well as a place potentially happen to anyone.”
to express how you feel but are people How would you like to change
starting to think that empathy on Twitter How did you get started? attitudes towards homelessness?
is enough? Or worse, that their feelings “I emailed to say that I was interested
are faux. Here’s why it’s not enough to in volunteering, then filled out forms, did “When it comes to homelessness there
just feel bad, and why it’s important to an interview and was Garda vetted. The can be a slight ‘us and them’ mentality
also do something positive. process for picking volunteers is very but volunteering reminds you that it could
thorough. I also received great training happen to anyone, because it’s on the back
Beyond the Hashtag which was very helpful, such as how to of a housing crisis. You meet people who,
deal with people with addiction problems, despite their situation, are so polite and
When tragedy strikes, the first instinct for training in boundaries and how to deal gracious, and that can be really moving.
most people is to share solidarity with the with challenging behaviour, to prepare They manage with such dignity. Everyone
victims on social media. After the Bataclan me fully.” appreciates being acknowledged and
shooting in Paris, everyone changed their What volunteer work did you do? shown that they are not invisible. This is
Facebook profile picture to the French flag, “I volunteered with the Simon Social why it’s important not just to give food
after the Charlie Hebdo shooting people Club on Capel Street once a week for two but to interact with our service users and
used the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag, and more years. It’s somewhere inside for people to remember that they are people too. I think
recently after the attack at the Ariana have a coffee and a chat, or watch the TV, seeing us out interacting with our service
Grande concert the #PrayforManchester use the computer or catch up with friends. users encourages the public to also take
hashtag was trending. But exactly why are If the service users need more support we the time to stop and talk to people they
we so drawn to social media? Dr Grainne can put them in touch with other services see sleeping rough.”
Kirwan, a cyberpsychology lecturer and within Simon. Even though a lot of
author (, explains that people who visit are sleeping rough, you How has it changed you?
much of the behaviour we see on social also have people, who, while they have “It opens your eyes and it gives you a
media in the aftermath of an attack can be somewhere to stay, are socially isolated better appreciation of what you have, and
explained by a desire to feel connected. and the regularity of coming to meet teaches you not to take it for granted.
people is their interaction. We have a lot When you feel lucky in life, then it feels
“It is part of a mechanism called social of events as well such as cinema outings, good to give a little bit back. It’s a bit of
processing,” she says. “By discussing a or art or a medical professional with the a Band-Aid on a huge crisis, but without
sudden event of such negative impact it mobile health clinic might visit.” these kinds of basic services for the
helps the individual to come to terms with What do you do now? homeless, the situation would be so much
it. When shocked, scared, horrified, or “I was finding it difficult to go midweek, worse. It’s a commitment but you get so
appalled by an event we search for evidence much back from it.”
that others have similar reactions so that
our response is validated.” However, often
people’s social media activity in these
situations seems less about solidarity and
more about posting a selfie, or referring
the situation back to themselves in
some way. Dr Kirwan explains that in
emotionally-charged situations it is easy
to say things that are unclear, or seem
insincere. “Our online society may make

If you are interested in volunteering see

it feel like we need to show a response to about social justice issues through as “I am no longer accepting
events quickly to demonstrate solidarity many different means as possible. So yes the things I cannot change.
or disdain for the individuals involved in please do share your outrage or spread I am changing the things
the events, and so we put into writing and the heart-warming success story on social I cannot accept ”
make publicly available something which media but also remember the importance
we wrote in haste.” of being truly active; take a minute to Angela Davis, author and political activist
sign the petition or if you can, donate and who spoke at the Women’s March on
Now Trending help charities to deliver the vital frontline Washington.
services that really help to change people’s
You only needed to look at the hundreds of lives on a day-to-day basis.” CAN ONE PERSON
thousands of people who took to the streets MAKE
for the Women’s March on Washington and No money? No problem
around the world to know that feminism A DIFFERENCE?
and women’s rights are having a moment in Did you know how Oxfam was founded?
the media spotlight. Here in Ireland, very Interestingly, it began during World War II Rosa Parks. Malala Yousafzai. Two women
important movements have harnessed the for two reasons; to raise money to get food that show it is possible to be entirely
power of social media to raise awareness - supplies to people who were starving in ordinary and do something entirely
#WakingTheFeminists, #EverydayFeminism, Greece, and secondly to campaign against extraordinary. The year is 1984. Mary
#HerNameWasClodagh and, arguably the an Allied blockade that was preventing Manning, a 21-year-old cashier in Dunnes
most visible of all, the #Repeal movement. food supplies getting to Greece in the first Stores refused to put some fruit through
The key was creating a simple, wearable, place. “We’ve always had that two-pronged the till, and was suspended. The reason:
political statement, which then flooded approach of providing emergency aid as well she refused to handle any South African
our Instagram feeds. Even now, the most as long term-development programmes and goods in protest against the apartheid
commercial of fashion brands are tapping campaigning to raise awareness of issues,” regime in the country and nine of her
into the feminist movement, meaning a says Sorcha Nic Mhathuna, Communications colleagues walked out the door with her.
lot of people are wearing it but not really Officer with Oxfam Ireland (Oxfamireland. The strike lasted almost three years, and
feeling it. Is there a disconnect between org). This approach is something we the government eventually banned South
the “You go girl!” approach of feminist can all adopt when trying to make a real African goods from being sold here, a ban
fashion and real action? difference because even if you don’t have which remained in place until the end of
the money to help with emergency aid, you the apartheid regime. Shop steward Karen
Ailbhe Smyth, convenor of the Coalition can volunteer your time, or do a closet clear Gearon told RTÉ at the time that the strike
to Repeal the 8th Amendment, has been out, or sign a petition. “Wherever we have had opened their eyes and changed them
fighting tirelessly for women’s rights since the chance to allow people to add their all, “We were basically concerned about
the 1970s, and told U magazine it’s more voice to a campaign or our advocacy work our own little life or social circle and we
like there’s a time lag. “If women get that we will do that. All of those small actions would get paid on Friday, go out to a pub,
idea in their heads that something needs contribute to us trying to reach those big some discos and blow the money, then
to change they may start off by just doing goals of helping people survive crisis and go back into work on the Monday and
something very simple online, or wearing helping people out of poverty.” just basically do your job and that was
a jumper, but they quickly then say, ‘This it.” Nelson Mandela, on visiting Ireland in
does really mean something to me’ and Using Your Power 1990, told the workers that their stand
move on to do something else. For every 50 helped him to keep going during his time
women who do something on the surface, There are many ways you can harness your in prison. In other words, Mary Manning
you’ve got 10 or 20 who go out and do power as a constituent and a consumer. made a split second decision, the waves
something concrete.” How does Ailbhe
suggest we increase the noise? “We do it + Politicians always respond to someone of which were felt far across the world.
in public, whether public means on social
media or on the streets. I’m a great believer in their constituency and Oxfam provides
in getting out on the streets because templates on its website which people can
everybody sees you. They know you’re use to email, as well as a list of the contact
real. At some point, you need to make that
switch over but the more you get out there +details for the TDs in each constituency.
on social media, the more likely you are to Put a personal touch to it as it makes
move out to the streets.” a letter or petition stand out when it looks

Taking Action +like you really care about something.
Call, Tweet or write to a company or
It can be hard to know where to start to fix the government to call them out on failing
these problems. Aoife Cooney, Campaigns to respond to a certain situation or asking
and Sponsorship Manager with Focus them to go further in their efforts to tackle
Ireland (, says that raising something. The government accepted four
awareness of the issues is important to drive thousand extra Syrian refugees on the back
action to tackle a problem but this also
needs to translate into real action. “People +of public pressure to do so.
expressing their view that homelessness is Be a conscious consumer. Look at
unacceptable and showing their feelings of the labels of the clothes that you buy,
empathy can help to reduce the stigma of and read up about the working practices
homelessness. However, there is a danger of companies you are supporting. If there
that individuals can sometimes feel that are practices you’re not comfortable with,
expressing their feelings is enough to tell that company why you are no longer
make a real difference in people’s lives. We
still want people to channel their passion +buying their product.
Educate yourself. If you feel strongly
about an issue, read some more from a
reputable news source or an NGO and see
what actions you can take.

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