Speech by Sabina Higgins at the 30th Anniversary of An Cosán
Jobstown, Dublin, 17th October 2016
Good morning everyone. I am delighted to be here with you and thank you for your warm welcome and to Maura McMahon for inviting me to be here with you on this special day Monday 17th October - Happy United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and Happy Birthday to An Cosán as it celebrates its 30th year of existence.
Arriving at 30 has now become a landmark day in one’s life, so congratulations and deep appreciation are due to Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan and now Minister Katherine Zappone, and you all, for achieving three decades from the inspired initiative in establishing this community based project here in Tallaght, with the object of promoting active citizenship. Congratulations to all of the Cosán community who with that objective, have achieved so much.
It is accepted now, by those who have researched it, that citizens living in a disadvantaged area can be caught in a cycle of poverty, that reproduces unemployment from one generation to the next, and leave children and young people of an area with limited prospects, and without the positive role models that could provide the examples they might follow. While education has traditionally been seen as the way for betterment, without the encouragement and motivation being provided in the home, or the environment, there can be a fatalistic acceptance that accessing education opportunity, beyond the compulsory required number of years, is not for you, that it is for other people.
The support of an enlightened outside vision and positive intervention, by those who are concerned at this, is of immense value, for people to become encouraged to have the confidence in their own self worth, and come to consider there could be many courses in life available to them through education.
This intervention came to Tallaght West through two very remarkable women, Dr. Louise Gilligan and Dr. Katherine Zappone, who set to work to get support in setting up The Shanty Educational Project in 1986.The object was to encourage self-belief in people, that they had potential that was untapped, and that education could be worth-while and enjoyable, and could lead to a more fulfilling life. That there were pathways to getting qualifications in different areas of study and skills, that they might have an interest in, and aptitude for, and that this could lead in turn to the betterment of their employment opportunities.
The projects aim was to bring together the people of Tallaght West, as a community that would have a sense of solidarity, cohesion and self-worth, and that would become a community of informed active citizens in caring for themselves and their communities.
It is an amazing story how with vision, skill, know-how and dedication, the Shanty Project has been created, and has grown and flourished and progressively broadened its service and services.
Now known, as An Cosán – The Pathway – its home base is here in Jobstown, Tallaght, and it has become the largest community education organisation in Ireland. It is leading the way in innovation and in the fulfilling of its further educational provision goals. It has the open learning centre, a library, classrooms and Rainbow House early years learning service.
These early learning years services are also at locations in the greater Tallaght area and in, Kiltipper, Brookfield, the Docklands, Whitehall and Cabra. These facilities cater for children from 0-6 and they include Lifestart, Spirals, Parents Plus, Parent Support as well as a number of innovative services.
Sociology Departments in main stream Universities now attach great importance to courses on Community Development and Community Leadership. An Cosan’s model of transformative education is dedicated to community education and committed to the development of the student’s full personal potential, and the enhancement of their capacity to take responsibility for social change in their community, with the objective of eradicating poverty and social injustice.
The development of the Virtual Community College is an amazing initiative in itself in the fight to combat disadvantage. It provides further educational opportunities for those who would wish to access higher education but whose circumstances - including cost or geographical location - do not allow them the opportunity. The Virtual College, building on their own determination, is facilitating them in fulfilling that aspiration. The model combines live lectures and off-line activities. It has successfully completed its two year start-up programme and is this year in a position to start it’s expansion programme.
On this day of International Eradication of Poverty I think it is of importance not only to celebrate what has been achieved here, but also to place the great work that is being done in Tallaght West, and all the other areas by An Cosán, in the context of its Global setting.
The history of An Cosán and its objectives in combating poverty and disadvantage fits so well with the efforts promoted by the United Nations to draw the attention of the world to the need to identify the features of poverty and to work to find solutions, and eliminate poverty.
Today about 800 million people suffer from acute hunger and twice that number suffer malnutrition. Over 60 million people are displaced fleeing conflict, forced to move because of desertification caused by climate change, and because of struggles of various kinds on our earth. Those disasters are caused by acute poverty and intensified by gross inequalities. All of this is a tragedy which stands as the greatest moral challenge that we as global citizens face at this contemporary moment.
In a world that has become more divided and the gap between the rich and the poor has increased to an unsustainable level, the solutions have to be Global.
I think that a much strengthened United Nations can be our best guide. That great goodness in humanity that gave us the United Nations and the Human Rights Charter has had the foresight to work tirelessly, and bring hope, and a possible agenda for halting a trajectory of destruction, and formulate a plan of action.
In 1992 (when the Shanty project was already working with a like agenda) the United Nations declared the 17th October as an International Day of Eradication of Poverty and called on all the agencies of Government and Society worldwide to co-operate to that end. Then in 2000 the United Nations got agreement from World Leaders for the Millennium Goals – A 15 year programme for the eradication of poverty and the empowerment of women.
Last year two great historic global events took place that put in place one universal agenda for all the countries of the world. In New York at the United Nations, 200 countries of the world came together and signed their commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, and in November in Paris, at the Climate Change conference, 196 countries adopted the first ever universal, legally binding climate deal.
The survival of the planet depends on the implementation of the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Climate Change Justice agendas.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a set of goals to end hunger, poverty, protect the planet, empower women and ensure education and prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets, 169 in total, to be achieved over the next 15 years - by 2030.
But if we are to achieve any of our global goals, we must seek to define new models of economics that are connected to ethics and are ecologically responsible and create new world institutions that are accountable, transparent, and rooted in democratic participation. As global citizens we must all be enabled and be willing to play our role in becoming informed participants, willing and able to engage in discourse, on the creation and implementation of such models; courageous citizens prepared to challenge, to question and to explore better alternatives.
What I find so exciting and hopeful in this is the solidarity that it invites. For the first time everyone can have the same agenda as their reference point - World bodies, governments, local governments, civil society, the private sector, all educational establishments, each individual in their community, in their home and in their personal daily actions.
It is essential that every man, woman and child gets to know these Millennium Goals if we are to ensure that actions taken place on one side of the world are not to the detriment of a sister or brother in another part of the world.
We must be mindful always as to how our actions are not just affecting ourselves, but how they are affecting our sisters and brothers worldwide. We must be informed enough ethically and economically to test that our consumption of goods is not causing suffering to other members of our world family.
Much in that overall narrative of transformation pertains to an overwhelming, and sadly persistent global injustice against women. Oxfam Ireland has stated that gender inequality lies at the heart of the gap between the richest and poorest people in the world. The elimination of gender violence and the empowerment of women are absolutely essential if the planet is to survive.
Here in Tallaght, An Cosán’s education for community development and learning, being pursued in your educational curricula, and in the reach of your engagement with lifelong learning from 0 – 100 is all aimed at achieving a community that has cohesion and solidarity and warm heartedness at its core.
If we are to achieve our Goals, everybody from child to senior must know them off by heart, so that they can be an exciting and inspiring motivation for everyday living and inform the kind of person one is, in oneself and in interaction with others.
I have no doubt that in today’s discussions we will put forward many ideas on how we can achieve the kind of good society in which we would all love to live.
Finally, it is important to recognise personal sacrifices that must be made to find the time and space to study, learn and grow.
The fact that those great reserves of courage, determination and resolve have continued to be found year after year by members of the West Tallaght Community is inspiring and humbling. I congratulate all of those determined people who have come here in search of a better future, and have found a voice and the confidence that has allowed them to play a part in crafting that future for themselves, their children, their community, and through that the wider society.
I wish you all and those who participate in An Cosán every success as you continue with your work of transformation.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir