Ireland’s Minister of State for the Diaspora Joe McHugh speaks to Worcester State University students.

Ireland’s Diaspora Minister Promotes Service Abroad

November 28, 2016
By: Christine Hickman

Worcester State University recently welcomed Ireland’s Minister of State for the Diaspora Joe McHugh to meet with administrators and discuss ideas for a potential partnership to establish service opportunities for WSU students.

“We were blown away with the hospitality that we received while touring Ireland, and we’re so pleased that the minister and his staff have taken the time to visit Worcester State and meet some of our students,” said President Barry M. Maloney, who visited the country earlier this fall.

Although his duties are primarily focused on the Irish diaspora and reconnecting Irish descendants with their roots, Minister McHugh is also interested in looking abroad to areas of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East for cross-cultural studies and projects.

“What I’m asking is, are there ways students here in America and students in Ireland can partner up to address some of these international challenges?” he said. McHugh found that in his own country and around the world, there was a new energy among the younger demographic and in universities that advocated for philanthropy and outreach in third world countries, more than seen previously.

“When you take a figure of 65 million people, you start thinking about how those people are displaced because of conflict, going from one place to another, it shows that we have a lot of responsibility to help those people,” he said.

Ireland, he reminded the students, has had its own experiences with conflict over the past century, yet seeing peace in the region as well as the younger generations of Irish citizens becoming more active in aiding other conflict zones has given him hope for the possibility of a more stabilized global climate.

Many of the Worcester State students expressed interest in working on projects that would help with the current refugee crisis in Europe. Minister McHugh said that while that was a worthwhile effort, he urged students to think beyond the European refugee crisis and to instead return to the source. The tradition of sending aid to these conflict zones such as teachers and nurses, he said, can contribute to dependency as foreign governments become reliant on free outside resources rather than building more stable social services and infrastructures of their own.

McHugh said that it would be more productive to provide training and aid in more current and economically viable fields, such as technology and climate science, so that people in conflict zones will be able to rebuild their homes and occupations instead of being forced to abandon them. With the vast advances in technology, he said, Millennials could use these latest innovations to help populations in need of assistance.

“You were the generation that grew up on the Internet—when I was growing up, I didn’t even have a phone,” said McHugh. “My generation was fixated with geography, but you have the power to connect with people around the world. That’s a gift. When we grapple with the frustrations of government, not just at a local level but at a global level, and trying to find who is responsible for the people who are dying trying to leave their home countries, we often miss the bigger pictures of what we need to do.”

“So if we start this today, maybe we can solve these global problems in a few months,” he added, laughing.

While at Worcester State, Minister McHugh and his aides also met with a small group to discuss potential connections with the city of Worcester. Among those present were President Maloney; Tim Murray, chair of the Greater Worcester Chamber of Commerce; and Craig Blais, president and CEO of the Worcester Business Development Corporation and WSU Trustee. In addition, McHugh visited with several presidents of state universities in Massachusetts, who were holding a regular meeting on the Worcester State campus that day.

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