A group of women from the Travelling Community recently graduated at a conferring ceremony at UCC having completed a life changing course designed to empower leadership in their community. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Hats off to you!

This course has been life changing.

That was the sentiment of Anne Burke from the Southern Traveller Health Network as a group of women from the Travelling Community recently graduated from a UCC course designed to empower leadership in their community.

Developed in response to community need, the Level 6 Leadership in the Community programme was co-created by the Southern Traveller Health Network (STHN), Adult and Continuing Education (ACE) and supported by Access UCC and funded by the SOAR Project.

It serves as a model of innovative practice in creating an inclusive learning environment that enables Traveller participation in higher education.

Anne Burke of the Southern Traveller Health Network said the course will be life changing for those who took part.

“The course covers issues such as education, accommodation, and health - topics that are statistically poor for the community. We need people within the community to show leadership, and this empowers them to do that.

“The rate of second level education among Travellers is atrocious, so to have these women avail of third level education is life-changing, not just for them but for their families and their wider communities.”

Anne paid tribute to the women graduating for juggling their daily lives with the part-time course, all in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic.

“Here we have women who never benefited from education but who had the ability to go on and achieve this. It shows that people, with the right support, can achieve things,” she added.

“ACE in UCC were phenomenal to us. They let us design the course and classes, they listened to our voice and acknowledged that we are the experts on our own community. Without them, and the funding from the SOAR project, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Findings from evaluation research identified several factors that inhibit Travellers from accessing higher education including experiencing negative practices such as segregation in the education system previously, fear of racism and discrimination, lower literacy and digital skills associated with early school leaving, homelessness and poverty and the lack of recognition of Traveller culture in the education system.

The collaborative efforts of the STHN, ACE, Access UCC and the SOAR Project facilitated the development of a safe and supportive learning environment.

All staff participated in Traveller Cultural Awareness Training in advance of the programme, culturally appropriate assessment methods were adopted, participants engaged in pre-development preparatory programmes through the STHN and their local Traveller projects in Cork, Mallow and Kerry provided additional study support throughout the programme.

Course fees were funded by the SOAR Project and participants were supported to avail of the part-time Student Assistance Fund to offset additional participation costs.

SOAR Project Co-Ordinator Sheila McGovern said: “This evaluation report highlights the importance of working in partnership with the Traveller Community in programme design and delivery to enable greater participation.”