This week we were given an opportunity to learn from our SAWIP brothers and sisters. The divide in South Africa was over race rather than religion. Nevertheless, there were similarities between the way conflict manifest there and in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. South Africans were lucky enough to have the strong figure of Nelson Mandela, who led their country out of Apartheid. The people of Northern Ireland, however, were not as fortunate. There are leaders in Northern Ireland, of course, but none, as yet, have embodied the spirit of one nation. I remain hopeful that we will someday and soon.
Our theme this year is dealing with difference. It is important that we all participate in the discourse of difference; engage in dialogue with an open mind and willingness to listen to and share our views with each other, per the intention of progressing forward towards a nation for a united people. This process is already happening in Northern Ireland, but there is still a long way to go. There are still those who pay only lip service to this cause and they are impeding positive change. Those people need to be called out! They have no place in Northern Ireland’s future. We, as the new generation of young leaders, must set the example of real listening and understanding of each other and our differences. Then, we must put what we have learned from each other into practice. The Washington Ireland Program is much more than a nice addition to our CV’s. I encourage everyone to challenge themselves not only in professional terms but also on a personal level.