Healing through Storytelling in Northern Ireland

By Elizabeth Cychosz, graduate of the Master of Arts in Peace and Justice '16

Friday, October 28, 2016TOPICS: Student Success

begin quoteI am immensely grateful to the Kroc School for giving me the opportunity to work directly with an organization that overlaps so much with my specific interests.

By Elizabeth Cychosz, graduate of the Master of Arts in Peace and Justice '16

During my time working with Healing through Remembering in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I had the opportunity to see what it really means to address issues of memory and legacy in a still-divided society. I was thrilled to have the chance to work with HTR, given its mission’s alignment with my own philosophy of peacebuilding: the past matters and continues to matter in the present and into the way we imagine what peaceful futures are possible.


Healing through Remembering is a civil society organization set up in the years immediately following the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. It was tasked with investigating if and how the legacy of violence in Northern Ireland could be addressed throughout the peace process. The initial investigation concluded that, yes, people in Northern Ireland desire a means of expressing their collective memories of what happened, and it suggested five themes of work: truth recovery and acknowledgement, a living memorial museum, a day of reflection, a network of commemorative practices, and a collective storytelling process. These five themes have guided HTR’s work since its founding in 2002. As a Youth and Community Worker, I primarily worked with existing projects related to the museum, the day of reflection, and storytelling.

Much of our work at the Kroc School engages with questions of community ownership of programs and processes, but seeing what that means in practice was a valuable experience. Kate Turner, HTR’s Director, was an inspiration in the way she conscientiously and deliberately set aside her own perspective in order to foster a truly inclusive organization. HTR’s membership drives its decision-making, and that membership includes Protestants, Catholics, academics, government officials, former police and military, and others. Given HTR’s emphasis on memory, this means the organization represents no official history of what happened but instead promotes multiple and sometimes contradictory histories, using that as an impetus for dialogue between people once in conflict.

One project that really exposed me to what that meant was a report I wrote about a conference held by the Stories Network in May. Trained as a journalist, I initially approached the report as a journalist might, using summaries and indirect quotes. The first draft was returned to me with the explanation that HTR avoids using summaries and prefers to let speakers exist on the page in their own words. Summaries involve too much interpretation and room for bias. This struck a chord with me, as my journalism classes preached endlessly about neutrality. Several revisions later, with increasingly prolific direct quotes, I turned in a report that to me looked more like a transcript than a report. I understood, though, that this approach highlighted how multiple views about everything exist anywhere, and it underlined HTR’s intent to remain as welcoming as possible.

I also learned a lot about working in a small organization and ended up working on a wide range of tasks. My primary project, an existing exhibit entitled Everyday Objects Transformed by the Conflict, fell under the theme of living memorial museum. In working on Everyday Objects, I researched and wrote program proposals, organized the small collection of panels in storage, wrote social media posts, walked around the city looking for alternate exhibition locations, examined the exhibit for representation of multiple narratives, and operated the welcome desk on a regular basis, among other things. Regardless of my interest in each of these tasks, someone had to do them. In an organization with a staff of maybe five on a good day, everyone does everything.

I am immensely grateful to the Kroc School for giving me the opportunity to work directly with an organization that overlaps so much with my specific interests. This would not have been possible without the encouragement and financial and logistical support offered by the school. I am confident that the lessons learned will be applicable in my future roles, and I look forward to bringing the conversation about memory and peace into the classroom.

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies


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