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Dr Frank Houghton, LIT; Maggie Gannon, Mary McDonagh,Bridget Mongan and Mary Joyce, LIT students, and Dr Siobhan O'Connor, Ennis CDP. Photograph by Arthur Ellis.

Ennis women on path to third level studies

FIVE local women, all members of the Travelling community, have enrolled as third level college students for the first time in their lives in a collaboration between Ennis CDP, Limerick Institute of Technology and the HSE.

And while they admit there is a sense of trepidation, there is also plenty of excitement with all of the women looking forward to facing the challenge ahead.

Margaret Gannon, Mary Frances Joyce, Bridget Mongans, Bridget McDonagh and Mary McDonagh met with one of their lecturers from LIT, Dr Frank Houghton, this week. Dr Houghton, the Director of the newly established Health & Social Research (HEALR) Group in Limerick Institute of Technology, delivered a four hour session on “Primary Health Care and its impact” in Ennis to the new students who proudly hold their LIT student cards. The students will also be going on campus to attend a number of lectures and to join in with the wider student population of which they are now proud members.

So how do they feel about starting this new chapter in their education? Maggie Gannon told us, “this course has been a challenge for me, specifically as a person who is visually impaired and considering I had very little schooling. I’m up for the challenge of learning new things and I also know I have the same abilities as sighted people particularly with the audio aid on the computer. The course has taught me a great deal on the topic of health”.

While Mary Frances Joyce said that she has found the work, “very educational for me being an early school leaver, I have learned a lot for example about screening and meeting people, with my time here in Ennis CDP and am looking forward to more ahead.”

Bridget McDonagh highlighted the impact that attending college has had on her life. “It can be challenging to fit the work around family commitments but I enjoy doing it.”

Bridget Mongans added that she hopes to apply what she is learning in college by bringing the information to other members of the Travelling community.
“I find the learning very important and interesting, I hope when I finish this course that I will be able to bring this information out there to the Traveller Community in Clare to let them know about all the services that are out there for them.”

While Mary McDonagh concluded by saying she is looking forward to the challenges that college will bring. “When I left school early at the age of 12 with no qualifications I never thought that I would amount to anything but with the help of St Joseph’s I passed my Leaving Certificate Applied. That gave me the opportunity to do this course. I am very happy, but a bit nervous, at the thought of me, a Traveller, going to college, but do you know something, I am up to the challenge and I cannot wait until I start at LIT, bring it on.”

At the end of the one year course of study and successful completion of assessments, each student will be conferred with a HETAC 6 Special Purpose Award in Health Advocacy and Community Development.
Frank Houghton explained why LIT are engaged in this project: “LIT is committed to expanding participation from non-traditional students. This course is one of many in which LIT aims to improve accessibility to all members of our communities. This course represents an important step, and a national first, in improving educational provision for members of the Traveller Community at third level in Ireland”.

Mary Kennedy from the HSE Traveller Health Services added, “The HSE welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with Ennis CDP, LIT and the Traveller Community in this project which will enhance the opportunities to improve the health and social gain of the Traveller Community in Clare.”
Colette Bradley Manager of Ennis CDP said, We are delighted to see the educational advancement of individuals we have known through different activities of Ennis CDP since 2002. This collaboration can only be beneficial as part of the overall PHCP plan for improved health and wellbeing among the Traveller community.

Dr Siobhan O’Connor is the Co-ordinator of the PHCP and the person charged with the development and implementation of the course. On successful completion of their education and training, the students will transition into employment as Community Health Workers for Travellers in Clare. This work involves: Community Health Initiatives; Linking with Health & other Services; Participation in relevant Community and Interagency For a; Cultural Awareness Training.

This initiative is to enable the development and expansion of the Ennis CDP Primary Health Care Programme for Travellers which has been in operation since 2009. The All Ireland Traveller Health Study – Our Geels 2010 identified a significant disparity between the health of Travellers and the broader community in relation to life expectancy, morbidity and lifestyle. The Primary Health Care Programme endeavours to address this to enhance the health outcomes of Travellers in Clare.

This training programme has been supported by a number of services and agencies including:
Ana Liffey, Anew Training, Clare Champion, Clare FM, Clare Sports Partnership, Congress Information and Opportunity Centre, Disability Consultancy Services, Drugs and Alcohol Services, Epilepsy Ireland, Equality Authority, Ennis CDP PHCP, Fusion Training, Health Promotion, LGBT Pavee, Limerick Institute of Technology, Mental Health Services, Migraine Association of Ireland, National Cancer Screening Service, NALA, North Tipperary Leadership Partnership, Primary Community and Continuing Care, Public Health Nurses, Red Ribbon Project, Safe – T training, Shine, Specsavers, Traveller Counselling Service, Traveller Health Unit, Traveller Women’s Network, Trinity College, Dublin, University of Limerick, University of Ulster.

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