Pleasure Activism: STAND’s Annual Retreat

Pleasure Activism: STAND’s Annual Retreat

Pleasure Activism: STAND’s Annual Retreat

A photo of a group of people sitting in a circle on the grass in Dublin's botanical gardens. There is a large greenhouse behind them.

Image: Amanda Marques.

STAND’s first annual retreat took place on Saturday 9th September. Students and recent graduates who have been involved with STAND in a variety of ways were invited to come along. To quote Barry Mulvey Healy, one of the attendees, the STAND retreat “brought together a group of passionate individuals who wanted in all different aspects of life to make the world a better place.” It gave everyone a chance to meet one another in person and get to know each other a little better, which was exactly how the day began. Before getting started, there was a chance for everyone to mingle and enjoy a pastry or two. 


Clare Sheppard and Charlotte Bishop kicked off the event by introducing themselves and the concept of “pleasure activism,” as well as initiating some games. They encouraged us to spend the day nourishing ourselves as changemakers. Susie led a short meditation to encourage everyone to reflect on moments of activism we experienced and how we can best incorporate more pleasure activism into our lives. 


According to Adrienne Marie Brown, author of Pleasure Activism The Politics of Feeling Good, pleasure activism is about making social justice a pleasurable experience. Pleasure activism is about reflecting on why we are activists and what we are passionate about. It is about bringing the joy and enjoyment back to activism and minding ourselves during busy periods of activism. 

Image: Amanda Marques.

Ebere Edeh, a student and participant in the 2023 Ideas Collective, shared her insights into activism, highlighting why we need pleasure activism:

“When I think of activism I think a lot of the burden we activists take on and how frustrating and mind consuming it is for a good cause or because we are passionate the extra commitment we carry, it’s hard to not enjoy or take a pause, a break and remember why we are doing what we are doing and find pleasure in it.”

Eimear McNally from Creativity Change led a zine making workshop, and spoke about how her work explores the power of the arts in engaging people. We all got to be really creative and use a variety of materials. We got stuck in to using different types of paints, markers and crayons to let our creative juices flow. Every zine was unique; each one had a different colour scheme, a different design and a different meaning. 


We then received an insightful and interesting guided tour of Glasnevin Cemetery. The theme of pleasure activism continued as the tour guide paused at a variety of activist graves such as Daniel O’ Connell, Maude Gone and Francis and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington.

Images: Amanda Marques.

After lunch everyone headed to the Botanic Gardens for the second half of the retreat. Rachel Dempsey from Full Circles Change kept us thinking about and exploring what pleasure activism meant to us through guided meditation and rethinking our connection to nature. We also learned about fractals and how they connect lots of different things together.

The STAND retreat ended at the Botanic Gardens with plenty of time for reflection before everyone departed. There were plenty of biscuits and flowers, roses and sunflowers to go round for everybody. After completing a survey about our experience of the day and saying our goodbyes the STAND retreat drew to a close. The event ended with shared feelings of gratitude, inspiration and connection. Barry described the event as “bright” and Eddie called it “adventurous.”

Image: Erin Kehoe.

People are activists in their own way and for different reasons and pleasure activism means something different to everyone. For example, one of the STAND Retreat attendees Eddie S. Mwangwewo describes pleasure activism as

“being an activist from the positive point of view, that is, advocacy which dwells more on the good of something and not more on the bad of the opposite. More like the half-full half-empty glass question. In this context, pleasure activism would be done with joy, love and happiness rather than with antagonism, hate and pain.”


In the words of Adrienne Marie Brown, “Changing the world doesn’t have to be just another form of work.”

A banner made up of many black and white images collaged together. Images include protest banners, animals, buildings, and statues.

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The UN: Compromise or Compromised?

The UN: Compromise or Compromised?

The UN: Compromise or Compromised?
United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
Louie Lyons
17th of August 2022

Russia vetoes humanitarian aid resolution

On the 12th of July, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution jointly proposed by Ireland and Norway. The resolution aimed to provide crucial humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians, who continue to experience the devastating impact of conflict between the al-Assad governing regime and rebels. This provision of aid would have lasted for twelve months, a period of time that the Irish ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Byrne, claims “actors on the ground… needed”.

However, the bias of Russia, a prominent supporter of the Syrian government, was on full display. The Russian Federation used its power to veto the proposal and in turn proposed its own amended resolution that passed with a vote of 12 members in favour and 3 abstainers (France, United Kingdom, and the United States). Aside from these votes, the only country to vocally support the amendment was China. The final resolution now sees humanitarian aid travelling from Turkey to Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in Turkey for only six months as opposed to the original twelve. This is a replay of events in 2020, when Russia similarly pressured the Council to cut the period of aid delivery to Syria from twelve months to six.

The 2020 resolution also limited the UN’s access to a number of borders into the country, reducing entry from four borders to just two. The Syrian civil war has been a continuous conflict since the Arab Spring protests in 2011, where tension grew between government and rebels, and has led to a major international refugee crisis. In 2021, a total of 13 million people had been internally or externally displaced. The Syrian civil war has, since its inception, spiralled into an international conflict with Russia, Iran, and the terrorist organisation Hezbollah supporting Bashar al-Assad’s government, and the United States, Turkey, the Netherlands, Britain, and France as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel supporting Syrian rebels.


Many are heralding this recent settlement as a necessary step towards helping the 2.4 million Syrian people reliant on cross-border humanitarian aid. Proponents of the Russian amendment also point out that it does not preclude the possibility of a renewal of aid in six months.

However, others view this as a compromised resolution.

Critics say it reduces the certainty and confidence surrounding aid, with French ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, claiming that we are now relying on a “precarious renewal”. The American ambassador, Richard Mills, also commented on the matter, stating “[this is what happens] when one Council member takes the entire Security Council hostage” and that Syrian civilians will be negatively impacted by the downgrade in the quantity of aid. Ambassador Mills went on to detail the general Russian stance on Syria, “Russia is so brazen in its disregard for Syrian lives that it has not even bothered trying to justify its stance on a humanitarian basis. This is an immoral and cynical approach to humanitarian needs.” Russia and China have both defended their positions on halving the guarantee of aid as a means of protecting Syrian sovereignty – that is to say the Syrian government’s autonomy and right to act however they wish within their own borders.

The irony of Russia’s claim to be a protector of sovereignty has not been lost on many. The impact of the new resolution may mean that, by the time UN agencies and NGOs working in the area will have organised to begin their operations, their authorisation will have expired. This will force them to spend valuable time and resources every six months working to apply for renewals and will diminish the amount of focus they can give to aid distribution on the ground.

The Security Council’s veto examined

Russia’s veto is part of a larger trend that sees the permanent members on the UN Security Council ally with brutal regimes by stalling action proposed by the UN. This trend applies to two states and two regimes in particular – The U. S’s defence of Israel and Russia’s defence of Syria. With regards to Russia, this is the 17th time they have used their veto to defend Syrian sovereignty despite that sovereignty being used to justify atrocities such as the Syrian government engaging in biological warfare against its citizens. Similarly, Russia and China both also used the veto to protect North Korea’s nuclear programme in 2022.

The situation between the U.S and Israel mirrors that of Russia-Syria but has been going on much longer. The U.S has used its power to veto 53 resolutions that would have sanctioned Israel over the past 50 years. Amongst those 53 exist a veto opposing investigations into the murders of seven Palestinian civilians by an Israeli soldier in 1990 and Obama’s veto of a resolution that would have denounced Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank in 2011. The U.S’s blanket support for Israel is tantamount to a war crime get-out-of-jail-free card and unquestionably sends a message to Israel that international law does not apply to them. China for its part has also used it’s veto twice to block UN aid to countries that are diplomatically engaged with Taiwan. Threats on the global stage is the main way in which China exerts indirect control over Taiwanese foreign policy and waving the veto around is one means of intimidating states looking for UN support.


This all begs the question – why are certain states given a veto at all, especially when vetoes are mostly used to defend the indefensible actions of friends?

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

An Austrian battalion doctor comforts a young patient in Damascus (United Nations)

Why is there a veto?

The veto was added to the UN charter as a way to persuade the Great Powers to join the UN. The Great Powers made it clear that there would be a veto or there would be no UN. In the wake of two devastating World Wars, the appetite for supranationalism and global governance was big. The veto was a bitter pill worth swallowing to establish the UN, binding the power in compromise from the very beginning in the hope that five countries would at least sing from the same hymn sheet on such serious matters. But in reality, over the near 80-year history of the UN, it has become an insurmountable weapon of war, the very thing the international organisation sought to prevent.

The veto is a barrier preventing the world from progressing past our former colonial global system. For four former western colonial powers to hold elevated influence over what regimes are worth keeping or what ones ought to be changed around the world is clear neo-imperialism. The list of permanent members on the Security Council includes only one state outside of the conceptual West. Similarly, the Security Council contains no representation from Africa, South America, or Oceania – yet three from Europe. This issue of Security Council representation too is a matter for debate.

Both Turkey and Brazil have at certain stages in recent times advocated for the abolition of the veto and have called for nations such as Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, and India be added as permanent members to the council. In April 2022, the UN General Assembly voted that the General Assembly must convene within ten days of a veto, at which the vetoing state would be required to provide greater justification and a debate would take place around the use of their veto. This is a first step but it is doubtful that the General Assembly will have enough power to either convince or shame a permanent member into reversing their veto. The outcome of this reform is that procedurally, vetoes will now take longer but will still have the same effect of facilitating war crimes and authoritarian regimes. Efforts to reform international laws that would place responsibilities on third-party countries to ethically intervene in conflicts have also suffered under the political curse of compromise: legislation has been clumsily worded and operationally impractical.



Veto reform is merely polishing the veneer of something that is broken on the inside; abolition is the way forward.

Unfortunately, the five permanent members are likely to balk at any further diminution of their power and the loss of any of the five permanent members to the UN would be a great blow – see the League of Nations without America. The permanent members are significant contributors of financial aid to the UN and consequently, many members see the veto as a necessary evil to keep the UN together.

Ireland’s role

Ireland was among five states, the others being Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Mongolia, who called for an outright abolition of veto powers back in 2018. Italy as part of the Uniting for Consensus Group also noted a desire amongst member states for the abolition of the veto. In relation to the Syrian civil war specifically, on top of their proposed resolution Ireland pledged €23 million towards humanitarian funding for Syria at the Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region conference in Brussels in May 2022 – the sixth conference of its kind. The funding will be provided to a number of humanitarian agencies. With this pledge, Ireland surpasses the €200 million mark in total humanitarian funding provided to Syria since 2012. While aid is stifled by a paralysed Security Council, the UN is forced to build peace with one hand tied behind its back. Of course the various reasons that cause Western democracies to prop up authoritarian regimes in the first place will still exist. However, in a veto-less world, the ways in which they could do this would be reduced by one.


Featured Photos by United Nations

This article was supported by: STAND News and Communications Intern Brianna Walsh and STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin

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From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

People standing around in a circle in a field surrounding other people lying on the ground making up the words frack off lng
Penelope Norman

14th of August 2022

Early in the morning, I climbed out of my tent to head over to the kitchen. The night before, around the fire, I had promised my friends, ‘the best potatoes any of you have ever eaten in your life,’ and I aimed to deliver. We had two bags of freshly grown spuds which needed to be washed, chopped, and fried with only a couple of hours to do it all before the entire hungry camp rushed towards our door.

Slí Eile’s climate camp was set up during the first week of August in a field between Lislaughtin Abbey and Saleen Pier, just outside of the town Ballylongford, Kerry. The goal of the camp was to demonstrate organised resistance against New Fortress Energy’s (an American fossil fuel company) proposed Shannon LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project. The project site the terminal would be built on was a fifteen-minute walk away from camp and, at the time of publication, it is currently leased as field space to a local farmer. The camp consisted of three large marquees which hosted a kitchen, a canteen, and event spaces. The other half of the field was kept for people to pitch their tents.

I went to the tap outside the kitchen to wash yesterday’s dishes and get to work. In addition to my potato-craving comrades, I had to worry about getting the meal cooked before our daily plenary meeting and my friends’ morning workshop about the benefits of Mutual Aid. Luckily, a few other early risers were around to help me with the cleaning and a number of the other kitchen crew were able to work on their contribution to breakfast. I easily found the tools that I needed to get the dish prepared.


 If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention.

The campers were a mix of people from different campaigns ranging from climate organisations such as Futureproof Clare and Fridays for Future to broader groups such as MacramÉire and Community Action Tenants Union, among others. Many had been a part of Extinction Rebellion Ireland at some point during their lives, though most had moved on to other ways to combat the climate crisis. Politically, there were two things which connected everybody who was there. We all cared about the crisis, with a hope to stop the methane-leaking LNG terminal which would exacerbate it. We also wanted to take active steps to move towards a world that was actually survivable, though there were disagreements about how much change would be required to get there. The camp and its mission were kept together by a fundamental bond, the shared experience of living in a specific space at a specific time which was only possible because we were able to rely on one another for basic requirements such as food, shelter, waste disposal, and warmth.

When I began to chop the potatoes into small chunks, I noticed how fatigued I was. From the moment I had asked if there was anything I could help with when I arrived Monday afternoon, I was swept from task to task in a way that I hadn’t been used to since I’d worked in a hospital years ago. If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention. That’s not to say that I didn’t have time to rest, it’s just that every action from the most intense work to the special moments of relaxation were deliberate and filled with meaning in a way I wasn’t used to in the city. Community feels different when you’re living apart from the people you build it with. We had weaved a fragile net of mutual reliance on each other; I didn’t have the time or need to dissociate to the same degree as usual. In the city, I tried my best to disappear; in the camp, with the support of others, I tried my best to actively live in the present.

People doing the jobs required to run the camp had a wide range of experiences. In my working group, there were campers who had worked in restaurants, cooked for friends occasionally, or maintained kitchens at other climate camps; we all taught each other the skills and recipes necessary to keep the camp fed. A task to install some complex solar panels turned from a specialist activity into a workshop where everyday people learned how to do it themselves. Direct action and media training workshops both helped people gain the confidence to engage politically for themselves and provided the space to share experiences and raise people’s awareness about various aspects of the struggle against Collapse. Even free transport to and from the nearby town of Listowel became an opportunity to learn about one another along the way and form the bonds necessary to maintain our community. The activities of the camp worked to empower each of us to participate in every part of camp life rather than separate us and disguise the labour happening around the site.


While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.

I needed help to light the stove we used to cook. While someone lent me a hand, I worked to create a spice mix of black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and sea salt to add to the potatoes when they were ready. Someone else helped me carry the heavy pot full of water to the tent so I could boil the sliced tubers before sauteing them. While I waited for them to boil, I was able to chat and share a coffee with a number of people who’d come into the marquee’s social area, including a number of friends from the previous night and new people who’d arrived in the morning. A couple of them helped me drain the potatoes while we reflected on yesterday’s Céilí and the upcoming events. While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.

For an extended encounter between a group of exhausted Irish leftists in a field, there was shockingly little drama. When a number of issues inevitably came up, they were handled without resorting to calling the gardaí (which would have put some of the campers at risk of violence.) We would find people who could empathise and communicate with the people involved in trouble and move through it without resorting to exclusion or violence. A lot of this came from a mutual respect we held for each other and our shared interest in maintaining the camp and its mission. A number of people did get tired, and conflict grew over space and scheduling. We knew the only way we were going to get through conflict without turning to older systems of punishment was recognising the worth in each other and pushing through to do the difficult work of compromise. This labour was just another job that kept the camp together, and one of the most hard-won successes we brought into reality.

I was able to fry the ingredients and serve them. Everybody made sure to thank me for the work and I in turn thanked them for what they’d done over the week. We all kept the old phrase ‘you are what you eat’ in mind while enjoying breakfast. We were eating locally produced food made by our friends for the purpose of keeping the camp going. We were a community, politically and gastronomically. The burner I made the potatoes on had been used the day before to create a glue out of boiled wheat flour called wheatpaste. Our actions and our meals were made by the same people in the same place, the heart of the camp as one friend put it. I don’t see these processes as distinct, separable parts of our camp, but different faces of the same fantastic gem. At the end of the day, it was a bold experiment in dreaming a better world into reality.

Featured Photo by Slí Eile

This article was supported by: STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin

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Sunset, Sunrise

Sunset, Sunrise

IMMA exhibition to display work by Iranian artist.

Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s exhibition ‘Sunset, Sunrise’ is being displayed in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) until November 25th.

This is the first time Farmanfarmaian’s work has been shown publicly in Ireland. The exhibition contains drawings in pen as well as embroidery, collages, jewellery and paintings. However, it focuses mainly on Farmanfarmaian’s large scale mirrored sculptures.

Farmanfarmaian who is now 95 years old, is the first Iranian artist in her generation to use cut glass mosaics for her artistic work without a religious purpose. She has been an artist for the past sixty years and prominent themes which appear in her work will be on display in her ‘Sunset, Sunrise’ exhibition. These include reflecting on events from the East and West.

The ‘Sunset, Sunrise’ exhibition is organised by both the IMMA, the Sharjah Art Foundation and the United Arab Emirates. It will include 70 pieces by Famanfamaian.

For more information on the exhibition see:

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Dublin Pride

Last month marked the annual Pride parade in Dublin City Centre. Our photographer Laoise went along to soak up some of the atmosphere.

Body&Soul highlights

Body&Soul highlights

Heading along to Body&Soul this weekend? We got you covered with our top picks for what you can’t miss.  


  • Hit up the main Body&Soul stage to catch the best acts. Saturday kicks off with a solstice meditation followed by Saint Sister, O Emperor and Pillow Queens.  Sunday keeps going with appearances from Daithí, Soulé and Iron&Wine.


  • For a more chilled atmosphere, head to the Woodlands stage. Nestled between centuries old pines, the ambient music and light performances enhance the its natural beauty. This stage also features in depth panel discussions about the recent referendum on the 8th amendment and the history of Irish Activism.


  • For some of the best medicine, check out the Vodafone Comedy tent all weekend. With appearances by Alison Spittle, Kevin McGahern and Dublin Comedy Improv, it’s the perfect place to wind down.


  • Did you know that humans have left tonnes of waste, not only on Earth but in Space too? To see the human impact of space exploration check out an excerpt from the Science Gallery’s current exhibition, Life at the Edges.


  • If you feel like flexing some muscles in critical thought, the Library of Progress has you covered. With podcasts from Blindboy Boatclub and Waterford Whispers, this stage can be lighthearted but also engages with some of the most important discussions about how we think and why.


  • There’s plenty of food options but if you’re eco-conscious then pay a visit to Food on Board. Wanting less waste in the world, food here is served on a wooden platter, then washed and reused, with all waste composted on site.



Photo via Body&Soul

Thinking Gender Justice – First Annual Conference

Thinking Gender Justice – First Annual Conference

Though gender studies have made considerable leaps since the 1980s, what is its role in today’s world? Gender still has much to offer in terms of assessing the rise of the right, new nationalism and ethnic conflict.

The UCD centre for Gender Feminisms and Sexualities has opened calls for papers for its first annual conference, taking place from 23rd-25th May. The conference aims to address the status of gender studies and how multidisciplinary gender analysis can provide valuable insights to society.

Keynote speakers include: Professor Inderpal Grewal, Chair of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Yale University and Brigid Quilligan, manager of the Kerry Travellers Health and Community Development Project.

To take part in the conference, send an abstract of less than 250 words and a short bio to the centre for Gender Feminisms and Sexualities by 2nd February.  The centre was formed in April 2017 with the aim of using multidisciplinary approaches to further research into gender issues and is hosted by both the UCD School of English, Drama & Film and UCD School of Social Work, Social Policy & Social Justice.

If you want to learn more see below:

Celebrate women in film at The Dublin feminist film festival

Celebrate women in film at The Dublin feminist film festival

Next weekend Dublin’s feminist Film Festival will be happening from November 16th-November 18th in The New Theatre, 43 Essex St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 to help counteract the mis/under-representation of women in film.


Now in its fourth year, the Dublin Feminist Film Festival has established firm roots on Dublin’s cultural calendar, shining a spotlight on women in film. The DFFF promotes and celebrates female filmmakers, hoping to inspire and empower others to get involved in filmmaking.

This involves considering women on-screen, but also behind the camera, through the dual-aspect of celebrating and showcasing fantastic female filmmaking, as well as demonstrating that women make compelling and complex characters and subjects. The DFFF weekend is a celebratory couple of days and our commitment to inclusive art is reflected in the programme each year, showcasing a range of work, from documentary to drama, short form to feature, films from different places and representing different perspectives, as well as work by women-of-colour.



The theme for #DFFF2017 is FeministFutures. Our programme this year foregrounds topics such as science and the universe, magical realism, technology and the digital world, contemporary feminist issues and movements, sci-fi, dystopia, and the future female. We’re asking questions about future generations of women – what challenges we will continue to face; how female filmmakers are shaping stories about our existence as human beings in a vast universe; how humour and beauty can be harnessed for illuminating serious issues, what makes something subversive; what makes us laugh? Under the spotlight are the roles that activism, tech, art, geography, reproductive (in)justice, youth culture, gender violence, or science might play in our FeministFutures… as well as the shockingly overlooked subject-matters of lesbian space-aliens and kitsch witches!

This year we want to showcase contemporary FeministFutures work, so every feature film is under five years old and we are proudly screening four Irish premieres. Each year we also screen a selection of Irish and international shorts – and award a ‘Best Short’ prize. We’re hosting a lecture dealing with intersections of new media, technologies, women’s bodies, sex and sexuality, in addition to a ‘Make a Movie with your Phone’ workshop for teenage girls – the future is theirs, after all.


Whats the future for food in Ireland?

Whats the future for food in Ireland?


Demand for food and drink has changed and consumers now wish for their food to be produced in a sustainable environment. For many the primary consideration is addressing climate change; for others it is about water sustainability; for many more it is about economic sustainability. The only difference is the priority that consumers place on these differing aspects of sustainability.


The issue of sustainability and increasing environmental costs has the potential to undermine the growth potential of the Irish Food and Drink Industry. For the food processing sector, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) stands as a clear example of how measures can rapidly become significant costs on operations and the wider part of sustainability however needs to be addressed. The burning of fossil fuels in processing, refrigeration and transport are primary emitters of CO2. Emission sources from primary agriculture include methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).


Irish agriculture is now challenged with a legal obligation to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 20% by 2020. The primary objective for Irelands Agri-Food Industry must be how to turn this challenge into opportunity by implementing greater efficiencies leading to cost reductions, while enabling sustainable production growth.

Future in Food Ireland will address these issues to ensure that the Irish food industry will become the global source of high quality sustainable food and drink.


Photo Credit: Box Media.

Dublin DJ Calvin James talks emergency response work in Syria and how it feels to encounter ISIS

Dublin DJ Calvin James talks emergency response work in Syria and how it feels to encounter ISIS

Calvin James is a Dublin born DJ who spent 6 months in the Rojava strip in Northern Syria. There he worked for the Kuridsh Red Crescent who are a 24/7 emergency response service. He went there because he wanted to help the Yazidi population, who face mass genocide by ISIS. He is now back in Ireland and has been running Syria’s vibes for the past 15 months. Syrias Vibes is a music event which supports the innocent victims of the wars in Syria and Iraq by raising money for medical, psychological, and social services for locals in both countries. He sat down with me to tell me his fascinating story.

So how exactly did you get involved, from your Dublin apartment all the way to Northern Syria?

The situation there was always on my mind, but it was when I received an e-mail from my friend in
Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) in April 2015 that things started to happen. He was over there fighting with
the YPG – who are a Kurdish resistance group fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. I had no interest in fighting,
but I told him about my social care background. Luckily the YPG were looking for healthcare workers….and before I knew it I was at the airport and making my way to the Syrian border.
So I stayed at a YPG camp for three weeks, but soon had to return to Dublin for personal reasons. At
the time I thought it was a “divine intervention” – a guardian angel telling me to cop on and get
home! But back home I just couldn’t stop thinking of the situation I left behind. So I decided to
return in February 2016.

What was it like meeting the YPG – did you have much training?

It was a good introduction, and there were many other Westerners who were there in a fighting
capacity. Actually, one of the first things I was shown was how to use basic weapons – simply for the
fact that there was always the threat of ISIS or a Turkish intervention, so it was for self-defence
reasons. Apart from that I learned the basics of the Kurdish language, and there was also a small bit
of ideological training.

On your return you started working with the Kurdish Red Crescent. Was there much of a routine
or was it more spontaneous work?

It depended on the day’s events. We were based in a city called Qamishli, which wasn’t
experiencing daily battle but there was always the ISIS threat. The first couple of months were a bit
slow as the rescue centre was being set up. But by April things were in full swing, and I was
responding to ISIS attacks or battles between the Syrian regime and the Kurds. But it was sporadic,
and there were days you spent just hanging about – I became pretty familiar with Syrian Soap

You also came to the assistance of wounded ISIS fighters. It must have been difficult to remain
compassionate and professional at those times…

It was a bit surreal. The first time I met ISIS was in a town called Amuda. We rushed there
because we heard of a suicide bombing – it turned out it was a failed suicide bombing and the ISIS
fighter was in a local hospital. So we went over and there he was, lying unconscious with severe burns,
aged around 22. I actually touched his body for a moment, so that was a bit of a freaky experience.
And indeed, many of the Kurdish Red Crescent would have known someone who was killed or raped
by ISIS. But we always stuck to our ethos of simply helping anyone who needed it.

July 27 th 2016 was a particularly dark day out there. Can you describe what happened?

That was the day an ISIS truck bomb in Qamishli killed 50 people and left 150 others injured. I was
just chilling in my room before hearing the most crazy bang noise, and then the air conditioner in
my room just fell to the ground. There was a massive mushroom cloud outside, and it was obvious
then something serious had happened. So we arrived at the scene, trying to get as many survivors
as possible. It was the most intense heat ever that day, 50 degrees I think. We had no water, so I
ended up drinking some dirty pipe water not caring of the damage it could do with me. Everything
happened so quickly, and some dude just dropped this dead girl on my arms. We rushed to the
ambulance with her and only then realised “what are we doing bringing her to hospital, she’s already
dead” and then rushed back to try and get the survivors – that kind of hazy and panicked state of mind
sums up what it was like. It was actually my Dad’s birthday that day, but unfortunately I’ll be associating
it with something else from now on. Nothing prepares you for a day like that.

How about the local population, what was your relationship like with them?

Overall very good. There would be UN aid trucks passing through Rojava on the way to Aleppo,
and the local populations were frustrated they weren’t stopping in Rojava. I think they felt a bit
neglected by some other organisations. So they really did appreciate any humanitarian assistance
they got, and they saw us as neutral. I also think the fact I was Irish helped, because of ours and
the Kurds shared struggle– there was the occasional Bobby Sand’s reference.

And what about their daily lives – was there much of a sense of normality?

There actually was, and I think absence of normality can sometimes be a bit of a misconception
about parts of warzones. It was definitely the case here any ways – people went to school, had
weddings, socialised, played sports. Myself and some YPG friends even treated ourselves to an
occasional couple of cans, just to get our mind away from it all. Obviously things would have been
different in Aleppo due to the constant chaos. In Rojava though it was “carry on as normal” while
always been aware of the ISIS threat.

Syria’s woes are far from over, but there is a sense that the Assad regime is going to hold. What
do you think that means for the future of the Syrian Kurds and Rojava?

It really depends whether the Assad regime is willing to grant them autonomy. At the moment
I’m reading that he would be open to negotiation on the matter, and I think many of them would
find that satisfactory. But there are still a few issues here and there – for example the Arab’s in the
region don’t always have the best opinion of the Kurds. So there are interesting times ahead to see
how it all pans out. Unfortunately though the Kurds can sometimes be a bit naïve about the United
States’ role in all of this – some of them even have a positive opinion of Trump. They don’t seem to
realise the U.S. might just throw them under the bus when it’s all over, just as what happened in the
Gulf War.

Tell me a bit more about Syria’s Vibes – how did the idea come about?

I just felt there was a lack of humanitarian charities and NGO’s in the region – many of them
seemed to be helping displaced Syrian’s in nearby Lebanon and Jordan. So I wanted to leave my
own blueprint, and started raising funds back home through club nights and other events.
Initially we raised funds just for emergency work, but we started to realise that other areas weren’t
being looked after. By this I mean there were still girls in part of Syria receiving no education at all –
and it’s the polar opposite of how things are in the West, children actually want to go to school
there! There was also a severe lack of psychological support for the Yazidi’s, who have been left
traumatised from ISIS horrors. So at the moment we’re really trying to branch out to these
untapped areas and fund some important projects and services.

Your story is inspiring, but what would you say to a young Irish person considering a similar

Learn a language – or two! In all seriousness though, you need to do as much homework as
possible before going out. I was lucky in that I had a very strong base and team, with everyone
looking out for each other and helping each other along the way. So it’s a combination of making
sure you have as much research done as possible, while also ensuring you’re with the right company.

Head along to Syrian Vibes which is happening tonight at The Soundhouse, Eden Quay, 7pm. Check out their Facebook event for details.


Photo: Calvin James with Yazidis

Brian has a degree in International Security and Conflict from DCU, and continues to have a keen interest in the field.  He currently works for Concern Worldwide. 

Ditch the car, it’s World Car Free Day!

Ditch the car, it’s World Car Free Day!

World Car Free Day takes place today, and with so much air, traffic and noise pollution, it has never been more important to remove as many cars from our cities as possible.

There are some great events taking place all over Ireland today, so it’s never been easier to get involved and simply leave the car at home.

Why not join the Mass Cycle Ride in Galway City this morning at 11am from Eyre Square? Three secondary schools are participating and the event is being run by Green-Schools and supported by Galway City Council.

In Co. Mayo, Westport Smarter Travel are running a cycling tour that will explore Westport venues on Culture Night. The meeting point is tonight at Westport Town Hall at 6:00pm. Smarter Travel say “It’s a great way to get around the town on the night and to soak up the atmosphere”. They are also running a  FREE commuter train, with pick ups all over the town.

In Tralee, Kerry County Council is installing new bicycle stands on Princes Street opposite the Brandon Hotel which will hopefully make taking the bike to work a much easier option. They are also offering FREE Travel on the Tralee Peoples Bus all day today.

So walk, cycle or join an event. Just make sure you take one small step to help tackle car pollution and climate change.

A special thanks to An Taisce for working with Stand on this for World Car Free Day, and if you want to get further involved in tackling climate change, why not sign up to their climate ambassadors programme? It’s open to all second and third level students. Visit for more info.

Three ways to get involved in college activism

Three ways to get involved in college activism

It’s not all about partying; college is the perfect time to become engaged in social activism. As we gear up for the new college year in September, it’s never been easier to start getting involved.

1. Join societies. College campuses are abound with fun and exciting activism societies to join. From our own Suas societies (Trinity, DCU, and Marino), to Amnesty and Global Brigades; there’s something for everyone. Check out which societies your college has on clubs and socs day in September or look online at the society pages.

2. Organise events. College is the time to take action. You can easily organise your own activism events on campus, whether they be fundraisers, exhibitions, or community projects. Check out our 8×8 Festival, which is organised by students on college campuses across Ireland every year to create awareness of development issues. This year the festival examines the myths and misinformation surrounding what is now the largest displacement of people since the second World War. Follow their progress on Facebook.

3. Volunteer. Students often dream of a J1, but why not be different and do a volunteer abroad programme? You’ll have such a rewarding experience and lots of fun to boot! Check out the Suas Volunteer Programme which takes place in both Zambia and India. Applications will reopen in the coming months, so sign up here to be the first to know. Or, to stay a bit closer to home, why not volunteer in your local community? Check out the Suas Volunteer Mentor Programme which runs during the academic year. Applications reopen in September.