Longford academic, Shelley Deane is currently heading up an organisation in the UK that is working to address conflict-related crises, and to educate and train people in conflict-affected communities in the Middle East and North Africa.
Dr Deane, who is a native of Ballymacormack, attended St Joseph’s NS before emigrating with her parents Mel and Bridget and brother Mel to the UK when she was fifteen years old.
That was back in 1988, and since then Dr Deane has embarked on an academic, research and development career that sees her travelling to some of the poorest and most conflicted affected parts of the world where, in association with her organisation, Brehon Advisory, she endeavours to educate children and young people about conflict, war, resilience and education through the media of books and trauma teddies.
Brehon Advisory provides strategic advisory, training, education, and mediation services to governments, private companies, foundations, institutions, and international donors.
“We address the need to improve coordination between the public and private sectors, working in fragile areas and with local communities, and government level decision makers to educate, to train and to strengthen governance, improve corporate citizenship and facilitate investment,” she added, before pointing out that education provided people with opportunities and choices.
Just recently back from a visit in the Middle East where the refugee crisis continues to worsen, Dr Deane pointed out that people there were in a state of perpetual trauma because of the ongoing war in Syria.
Meanwhile, back at base in the UK, Brehon Advisory continues to create trauma teddy bilingual children's books for refugees and vulnerable host community children.
The books are published in partnership with Asala Publishers and private contributors and the organisation donates and distributes books and trauma teddies across Lebanon, Jordan, and most recently to refugees and their new host communities in Denmark, Ireland and the UK.
“The books,” added Dr Deane, “address the challenges of literacy, language and psycho-social trauma experienced by refugee children and are beneficial in formal, informal and non-formal education contexts."
Meanwhile, the trauma teddies help children deal with stress, trauma, anxiety and separation.
“We donate the books to children across the Middle East and to Britain, Ireland and Denmark,” she added.
“We have also worked with the Irish Peacekeepers in South Lebanon.”
Dr Deane also went on to point out that Longford people, like most communities across Ireland, continue to help and support the humanitarian crisis that has unfolded across the Middle East.
“Longford people are doing amazing things to help people who are in conflict zones; I have friends whose fathers served in the Barracks in Longford and who are now playing a role in the Lebanon,” Shelley continued.
“We have also been to the Gulf and the problem there is motivating children who already have everything, while in other countries it’s about providing the opportunities to people so that they can help themselves.”
She added, “In order to get more books published and distributed we need more funds."
Brehon Advisory has pointed out that nobody leaves their home unless they have to, and in the case of refugees, leaving is about safety and security.
As a result, the organisation conducts security research, risk assessments and strategic training that prioritise people.
The organisation also provides comprehensive analysis and recommendations supporting human security for communities, institutions and organisations in protracted conflict-affected areas.
“The problem for many refugee children is that they are missing the opportunity to go to school,” said Dr Deane.
“Across the Middle East, for example, children particularly Syrian children are not attending school because of war, dislocation, displacement and the need to seek refuge and security first. Access to schools, documents and certification exacerbate the education crisis.”
She then added that Brehon Advisory provided integrated training for the security sector and civil society to enhance mutual understanding, foster professional relations, give ownership and promote peace-building in fragile and complex environments including conflict, post-conflict and transition states.
Just back from the Lebanon this week, Dr Deane says that it is imperative that global investment in education for children displaced by conflict, is addressed.
“It can and will change their lives for the better,” she smiled.
* Dr Shelley Deane has a PhD in Political Science from the London School of Economics and Political Science.