For the past four years, The Corrymeela Community, in partnership with The International Forgiveness Institute, has facilitated a cross-community Forgiveness Education Schools Programme in Northern Ireland. The Shared Learning Programme with Forgiveness Education brings together children from across the sectarian divide to participate in activities such as story telling, art, discussion and other activities. Through this programme children are taught about the virtue of Forgiveness which encourages them to view “the other” through kind, generous and forgiving eyes. In Northern Ireland, where communities are quite often separated because of political allegiances and faith traditions, most children are educated in separate schools with their families mostly living in separate areas. By bringing children together through Shared Learning, we are able to encourage them to see that all people, no matter where they live or what they believe, are valuable and have deep worth.
The Shared Learning Programme runs in tandem with the Forgiveness Education Curriculum. The teachers in both partner classrooms teach the Forgiveness Education lessons to their pupils and the partner classrooms also meet together up to 3-times for Shared Learning activities. Then, at the end of the programme, a final Celebration Event occurs where parents are invited along to hear what their children have been learning about forgiveness. At the Celebration Events that occurred in March 2012, a few pupils were interviewed about the programme and here’s what they had to say:
When asked what forgiveness means to them, Alex, a P4 pupil (2nd grade) stated,“When you forgive you show that you are a true friend. When you forgive it is like sunshine coming back in to your life. You need to forgive otherwise your friend could become like an enemy and you would always feel sad. It would be like having a dark, gloomy cloud in your life.”
Niall, a P5 pupil (3rd grade) said, “Sometimes it is hard to forgive someone straight away if they really hurt your feelings. It might take longer to see their worth and show them real forgiveness. But it is worth it in the end.”
Darragh, a P3 pupil (1st grade) also responded by saying, “If someone hurts you and they say sorry, but they have to mean it, then you can forgive them and be friends again. If you didn’t forgive you would lose your friends.”
While Northern Ireland has made progress over the past 14 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 there is still much to be learned, much to be discussed and much to be healed. Programmes such as Shared Learning with Forgiveness Education definitely have their role to play in this process and as Niall said above, “Sometimes it is hard to forgive someone straight away if they really hurt your feelings. It might take longer to see their worth and show them real forgiveness. But it is worth it in the end.”
The Corrymeela Community