From segregation to integration, the road ahead…

By Andrew Goyvaerts


From gay bars to peace walls, flag polls and a virtually nonexistent border, for most of life I have witnessed and studied from a social science perspective, segregation, a topic that some are becoming desensitised to in the world we live in today. During my education it focused on one particular area and the people who bombed, shot and tortured stranger, friend, family and neighbour alike with impunity because the “target” either came from “the other side” or was claimed to be a “tout” however those same men and women who terrified Northern Ireland for decades went home, put their children to bed, perhaps with a story or song, cooked dinner, all things their victims along with some survivors could no longer do. Human instinct leads us to conjure pictures of a monstrous life when we see the face of someone who has committed such atrocities because we can be so unwilling to admit that their lives are very much like our own, they have a mother, father, siblings, maybe even an elderly lady who they helped around the home. The headlines called them monsters, terrorists and there were calls for capital punishment to be reintroduced but within their own communities to many these “comrades” were considered local hero’s who could be relied on not just for protection but help with day to day issues.

My personal experience of Northern Ireland comes from summers and holidays spent with my grandmother along with our many relatives in Limavady County London/Derry during my early childhood and nearly 15 years living on/off in Belfast.

In the early nineties peace was in the air and even as a young child I could feel an energy of change, exactly what that change was I didn’t understand but as I found out when my uncle was passing nannies house on the Main Street, it didn’t mean I could stick my head out the window to sing the Irish National anthem were taught in school the week before. It also meant that my Protestant friend across the road and I still experienced looks of dumb-foundry when we played outside the backyard. In an odd way I understood how they were feeling and returned with my own look of dumb-foundry at the barriers that held everyone back so much.

More than twenty years after the Good Friday agreement in NI, integration can still be a touchy subject with some but it is getting there, beautiful community gardens have sprung up that are cared to and respected by all, schools are leading the way with what can be described as a no nonsense approach to integrating education and although peace walls continue to be erected, common goals such as social stability in the face of austerity and growing respect as well as trust between different communities, a new NI, Stormont aside, becomes more and more visible to the naked eye.

Some will wonder what all this has to do with HIV or even the Social Sector, it comes down to the simple interlink of humankind. Whether you wake up as CEO of a multi million/billion pound company or an unemployed person trying to scrape by on the pittance they say is one of the best social care systems, we all wake up by opening our eyes, we will all sit on a toilet at some point in the day and a moment will come for us all when the day begins but we can no longer open our eyes.

Just like in Northern Ireland barriers have been built up within the social, and private sector, that could possibly be hindering the growth of our communities and members (private sector).

Getting to this point of integration in NI has taken reflection, honesty, courage and understanding, all things we should take a moment to do as we move into uncharted territory, whether your country is dealing with a rogue president, Brexit, austerity or civil unrest, we are all entering or have entered the unknown and need each other more than ever. No longer should HIV stand in one corner, cancer in another and the eco system across the way because just like us, as humans, they all interlink. Reduce HIV, Cancer or Diabetes and we also reduce emissions through the reduction of producing and transportation of medicines along with medical equipment so it stands to reason that we should say hello to our interlinking sectors and work closely together so we can stand stronger as we move forward.

Of course this is all the opinion of one person and needs to become an open dialogue but it cannot become survival of the fittest, if it does humanity has failed.