More bridges may be built between Travellers and the rest of society as more than 20 Traveller and Roma students have completed a university course in community work.

The initiative at Maynooth University has inspired some graduates to go on to tackle full degrees after completing more than 100 hours of study in youth justice, equality, and human rights.

The community work in a changing Ireland certificate, awarded to 24 mature students yesterday is a level-seven qualification. The programme was developed by Maynooth University’s applied social studies department to give marginalised communities greater access to third-level education.

Among those taking full advantage is Tracey Reilly who had already learned a lot working with Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre. “This course really gave me a good grounding in the theory of community development. I think this will really help me in my work because I now know the background to the work I’m doing.”

She found out just this week that her application to begin the university’s youth and community work degree has been successful.

For Tica Muntean, who already works with the Kildare Roma Interagency Group, it has been a first taste of third-level education. He became involved with speaking up for his community after arriving in Ireland from Romania with his wife and son in 2000: “I worked in the community before [this course] but now I can bring back what I learned. It was also good to meet other community workers from around the country and to hear about their experiences.”

Ann Friel was another proud recipient of the special purpose award at yesterday’s conferring: “I hope to use what I have learned to be an advocate and leader in my community, and play my part in breaking down the barriers between Travellers and the rest of Irish society.”

Anastasia Crickley of Maynooth University’s applied social studies department said the students’ achievement is significant when less than 13% of Travellers complete second-level and only around 1% go on to get third-level degrees.

A key goal of the programme is to empower graduates to act as mediators between their communities and wider society, allowing for greater communication and understanding of each other’s issues and needs.

Maynooth University president, Professor Philip Nolan, said last year’s acknowledgement of Traveller ethnicity has rightly created a new confidence and new targets to be achieved, and the university is determined to play its part in making third-level education the norm for Travellers and Roma.

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