CFPNI was the brainchild of Peggy Barrett, a Pennsylvania woman (born in Co. Cork) who was stirred into action after watching scenes of violence from Northern Ireland on her television. In 1987 she and her husband, Jack, decided to set up the now famous charity with a band of volunteers from her local area to bring pairs of young people”one Protestant, the other Catholic”to live together in their homes across the US. That initial program has grown in scope over the years with the help of hundreds of volunteers and families from across Northern Ireland and all over the US. To date, CFPNI has helped more than 2,000 NI teens caught up in the “troubles” through cross-cultural programs aimed at promoting understanding through interaction. The New Mexico Chapter of the CFPNI was formed as a committee of the IAS in 1989. In 2005, I became the Southwest Coordinator, and began the onerous (but so fulfilling!) task of recruiting host families who would be willing to take two teenagers into their homes for the entire month of July. Last year my committee and I recruited five families; this year we recruited three. On June 21st of this year I traveled to Northern Ireland (by way of Continental to Houston, then diverted to Gatwick, then delayed in Dublin, then reunited with my luggage, then on to Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, by bus, whew!) to attend the “pre-departure meeting” with the 72 teens who would be participating in the project this year (including the six slated to come to New Mexico). “Try to be good visitors,” I told them in my speech. “Yes, the food is going to be weird (we don’t put gravy on Chinese food here in America for one thing, can you believe it?), but if you can be open-minded and tolerant, you will have a wonderful experience.” They whooped and hollered. I was exhausted already, just thinking about chaperoning all 72 of them to the US in a few days. On June 27th, the 72 teens and I (and another NI Coordinator) made the loooonnnggg journey to the US. Six teens and I raced through the Newark airport and by some miracle made our connection to Houston and then on to Albuquerque, where we were greeted by the host families, CFPNI committee members, and a piper! The teens were totally embarrassed by it all (but in a good way). And then the real fun began: Off went Rhian and Emma to the Bryers (Vikki and Bob); Aine and Emma to Martina Mesmer; Rachel and Siobhan to myself and Don Baker. And what a summer they all had: trips to Santa Fe, Taos, Acoma, Chaco Canyon, the Grand Canyon, the Tram, Cliff’s, the Zoo, the Botanical Gardens, museums, etc. etc. etc. If there was something cool to see in New Mexico, they saw it. (Of course, being teenagers, the place they loved the best was THE MALL. And because the pound sterling was”still is”doing so well against the American dollar, they had plenty of money to spend.) When they left on July 25th, there was much smiling through tears”we all knew we had had a summer we would never forget. On October 18th, Don and I arrived in Belfast Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, to attend the “Re-Union”"an annual event where the teens and their families in NI (and some of their American families as well) reconvene to assess the lessons learned from their summer in America. At the Reunion, to highlight the lessons they learned from their summer in America, some of the teens put on skits: some hilariously spoofing the stereotypes found on both sides of the Atlantic (“I hope to have great craic in America!” “WHAT!?!?! You think you”re going to get CRACK here? Are you a drug addict!?”); and others zeroing in on our all-too-human tendencies to judge others by how they look, not how they act. (“You may be stupid as a rock, but I”m going to hire you because I think you”re cute!”) The celebration was marred only by the realization that this would be the last Re-Union, as the US and NI Board of Directors had voted the day before to disband CFPNI after its twenty-year run. The reasons for this decision are many, but the primary reason is that the “troubles” in NI do not seem so troubling now. Many of the CFPNI teens, for example, already knew each other before the program; the segregation of Protestants from Catholics is not so rigid as in the past. This is not true in all parts of the North, of course: In Derry (if you’re Catholic; “Londonderry” if you’re Protestant), the neighborhoods are clearly delineated by either the Tricolor and pubs with pictures of the Pope, or the Union Jack and pubs with pictures of the Queen. And the father of one of my teens told me that he would never consider going into either of the two pubs in his little village as they were both “Protestant pubs” and he would not be welcomed there. But our CFPNI teens (some now in their mid-30s) will not necessarily have the same segregated adulthood as their parents. For one thing, they have more money now than their grandparents and are thus less inclined to want to spend time brooding over historical differences. For another, they have been to the other side of the Atlantic and have seen for themselves what life is like in a country where (for the most part) no one cares what your religious preferences are. Twenty years ago, Peggy Barrett envisioned a Northern Ireland that had achieved peace through understanding and interaction. Thanks to CFPNI (and other similar programs, such as the Ulster Project and Friends Forever), the people of NI are well on their way. The Irish-American Society of New Mexico is proud to have been a significant part of that achievement. For more information about CFPNI (www.cfpni.org) or the IAS of NM (http://www.irishamericansociety-nm.com/), contact Ellen Dowling at 505-307-1700 (edowling@standuptrainer.com).

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