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CYC-Online Issue 29 JUNE 2001 / BACK
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Relationships and new beginnings

Niall McElwee

Regular readers may remember that, in my last column in early May, I wrote about my impending trip to Canada. I said that I had an “expectant heart” and wondered if I would make some new friends and learn different ways of approaching child and youth care instruction and practice. I need not have been nervous. Having made it home and gone thru a successful de-toxification programme, here are some thoughts:

On the First Day God Created -Snow!!
When it snows in Ireland, it is of the miserable slush variety. Snow, in Ireland, is a horrible brownish-red colour. Its texture is like the tongue of an Alligator and it has the lasting properties of a friendly immigration officer! We trudge our way thru a gigantic brown “slurpy” and hope that it goes back to whatever quadrant sent it to us. Imagine our delight, then, to experience real snow. What they call in Canada, a flurry. Six-inches deep, brilliant white and soft as the proverbial bunny’s ass.

And that, my dear friends, is exactly where I spent the majority of my time whilst attempting to ski on the majestic slopes at Lake Louise – my ass. Nothing quite brings one back to earth with a bang than an approaching hazard (in this case a series of trees cunningly planted to the right of our ski run) rising to meet one at what feels like fifty miles an hour. And answer this riddle for me. Why does one inevitably ski towards the trees no matter what direction you (a) point your skis and (b) unnaturally contort your body? BTW, in Ireland a Pizza is something you eat, not a way to make one stop as one hurtles towards oblivion. Anyway, we survived Jack Phelan's attempt to kill us off on our first full day in Canada with only bruised asses, elbows and egos. I’m reliably informed that we got off lightly. Thank you, Jack.

King Eddy’s Blues Club in Downtown Calgary
Now, having survived the skiing, how else could the Canadians kill us off? Enter Dr Grant Charles. What can I say about Grant? To those of you who know him, he requires no introduction. To those of you who don't, I say only one thing. Do not drink with this man! He is deadly, has a bottomless pit for a stomach and is hooked on totally obscure 1920’s Sony jazz recordings and eating picnics out in the cold Rockies air. It was in Grant’s home that I was introduced to green Tomato Ketchup and I am told by his lovely teen daughter that ketchup in Canada also comes in blue. I am forever grateful to the Charles family for this.

The Conference
I suppose, at this stage, I should say something about the conference as this was the main reason we travelled out to Canada. My impressions are that it was really well run, full of interesting and highly motivated people and the child and youth care practitioners worked extremely hard in the workshops! Well done to Pat Foran who, of course, has Irish blood in him. Munster and the city of Cork will never be the same after his threatened visit. Sure, how could the man go wrong?

We were fortunate to have a good range of students, practitioners, agency directors and instructors at our own workshops and we are very grateful to them for sharing so many of their experiences with us. We learned a great deal from them and I look forward to meeting up with some of these new friends in 2002 in Newfoundland. I also learned that we share the same struggles. I sincerely hope that Grant McEwan College and Medicine Hat are granted validation to run their proposed Degree programme, and I support them in their struggle towards this.

There are so many instructors doing such good work in their respective colleges – Marlene Kingsmith and Scott McLean in Mount Royal College (Cormac wears your college polo shirt proudly), Louise Bureau and Jack Phelan in Grant McEwan College (we wear your college pins daily), Varley Weisman in Medicine Hat College (we would wear your golf shirts if Grant sent them over to us), Leanne Rose in Malaspina University (thanks for the journals) and Carol Stuart at Ryerson University (I promise we will do some Karate training in Newfoundland). I salute all of you and the work you are doing to further child and youth care education. There are also hundreds of child and youth care practitioners getting on with their daily tasks of being with the young people in their care and we visited a couple of programmes whist out in Canada.

Cormac and I were very fortunate to be asked along to the graduation dinner of the 2002 class of Mount Royal Child and Youth Care Counsellors (yes instructors, I got that one right!) and we saw first hand the special relationship cultivated by the staff with their students. I saw how proud the instructors were of their students and how this was reflected back to the instructors in the warm comments made about them at the podium (Irish students – please take note!). I believe that the graduates will do their colleges some service in the field and I look forward to faculty and student mobility between Canada and Ireland in the future.

Concluding thoughts
My lasting impression of the Canadians I met at the conference is that they see and live child and youth care as a family. They are genuinely “present” with each other in their dialogue and listen to one another. They also know how to enjoy themselves. I will forever hold dear to my heart the melodious sound of “Kookanee Gold" and “Canadian". It is true, as Thom Garfat has suggested, that child and youth care is a family. It is a family I am happy to belong to. I am proud to say that I have chosen child and youth care. Whether this takes place in Canada or in Ireland is of little matter. The location may change, but the sentiment remains when we meet up wherever that might be in this increasingly small planet. Canada 2002 was, as they say themselves, out there, awesome.

Thank you so much to Varley who drove us around to see million dollar homes we will never be able to afford, to Grant for introducing us to possibly the weirdest name I will ever encounter – Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump – to Marlene for inviting us to the student graduation to see how a successful student body can organise things and for getting us our colour name tags, to James for showing us around the under-side of Calgary and driving us to the airport and to Jack for just being his honest, kind and wonderfully generous and entertaining self.

Oh, I nearly forgot. I hope those much sought after conference shirts make their way over here to us in Ireland in the near future. Never have so many wanted so few shirts. You know guys, those ones with the Alberta Child and Youth Care logo on them that only the conference committee and special guests received ... But that’s another story.

Niall

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