The Irish Jesuit Province and Dublin City University (DCU) have this Autumn 2006, launched a unique project to enable greater numbers of Ballymun residents enter 3rd level education.
“Third level participation in Ballymun is scandalously low.” according to Fr Kevin O Higgins SJ, “So in an unprecedented move for any Irish University, DCU will set up a teaching unit off campus in partnership with the JUST project, (Jesuit University Support Training), so that local residents can begin the process of acquiring a degree.”
JUST project member Mr. Sean Meehan says that even the very small number of people who make it to 3rd level in Ballymun, often end up dropping out because of lack of support at various levels. “They may not have a quiet space to study or adequate materials like a computer. Or they may not have any supervision or child-minding facilities. So the JUST project will assist them in all these areas, including ongoing mentoring, tuition and material support.”
Ashling Palmer has a nine year old child and is parenting alone.She left school at 17 and lives with her daughter in the Ballymun flats. She’s awaiting a new house under the regeneration scheme and has just begun her study for a B.A. degree in Theology and Psychology. She has applied to JUST for assistance. “I came from large family where nobody went to college so they can’t really support me but I really want to make this work but I just know I won’t make it on my own. The JUST team have given me practical support and help with my studies as well as helping me to stay motivated and I know that without this ongoing support I just wouldn’t make it. Even better my daughter is already talking about going to college just like me so I feel I’m really breaking the cycle here where so many young people wouldn’t ever hear talk of going to third level. I want a better life for me and her and I believe education is the key to that”
JUST Director Kevin O Higgins SJ, is also former head of Philosophy at the Milltown Institute and he believes that whilst Ireland is experiencing ongoing economic growth and the material regeneration of Ballymun is well under way, with new houses replacing old towers, “it is education that is needed to make the people of Ballymun an enduring part of Ireland’s economic prosperity. Economic booms come and go but education is a lifelong asset”.
The Jesuits and DCU both celebrate 25 years in Ballymun this year. The Jesuits mission has always be one of promoting faith and justice and adapting to the changing needs of society. DCU,in their five year plan, have made a formal commitment to social outreach specifically in the Ballymun community.
The JUST offices and study centre’s are temporarily located in one of the Ballymun tower blocks. But by the New Year, with the assistance of Ballymun Regeneration Ltd. and Dublin City Council, the joint JUST/DCU initiative will have a highly visible location on Ballymun’s main street.
According to Kevin O Higgins SJ, “At the moment it’s the rare person from here who makes it to 3rd level. We want to make it the norm as it is in many other parts of Ireland.”