Our Man in the US

EastSide Partnership’s Tourism Development Manager and Assistant Chief Executive, Chris Armstrong, was recently selected for AMBIT 2022, an intensive two-week leadership programme in the USA funded through the International Fund for Ireland in partnership with the Washington Ireland Programme.

Now in its 19th year, this year’s AMBIT cohort consisted of 20 leaders from Northern Ireland and Irish border regions working across community development, criminal and restorative justice, youth work and policy. With the first week visiting organisations in El Paso, Texas and the second week meeting with policymakers in Washington DC, the group closely examined the topics of trauma, democratic renewal and managing the co-existence of multiple identities in shared public spaces.

On his return home Chris reflected on his two weeks in the States. I had previously spent some time in America, mostly on holidays and visiting family, however this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really peel back the layers and get under the skin of the Country. In El Paso we visited some extraordinary organisations doing incredible work with extremely limited resources. One such organisation was The Border Network for Human Rights led by Fernan do García.

Working on both sides of the USA / Mexico border, Fernando and his small team of dedicated, impact-driven colleagues and volunteers strive to protect human and civil rights in marginalised border communities as well as advocating for systematic immigration reform right across the United States. 

From a Belfast perspective, we were able to see how this heavily militarised border infrastructure between El Paso (USA) and Juárez (MEX), which was historically one city, has not only physically divided families and communities but has also led to massive intergenerational trauma on both sides of the border. Much of our reflection as a group was around our own peace walls and interfaces back home, recognising the relative strength of connectivity between our ‘divided’ communities in comparison to El Paso / Juárez.

This sense of connectivity and strategic partnership working was in my mind throughout the whole two weeks. From those we met, joined up collaboration appears to be largely missing amongst individual organisations working tirelessly to combat targeted issues within specific communities. The sheer size of America and its institutions, coupled with the scale of the issues they face were unenviable barriers.

Very often it can feel like our local networks in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Ireland are disjointed and yes there’s undoubtedly more that can be achieved. However, now back in east Belfast, I am reassured and re-energised by the strength of our partnerships and shared vision to continue to build prosperous and resilient communities, working together to hopefully make a positive impact on every single person who calls this corner of the world ‘home’.

AMBIT 2022 has certainly broadened my perspective and re-emphasised the strength of our own shared approach to tackling issues in partnership. The experience has also enabled me to build strong relationships with other like-minded leaders working in similar fields right across Northern Ireland and Ireland. Relationships which are already leading to even more effective partnership working and shared learning after just a matter of weeks.

I would personally like to thank the Washington Ireland Programme, US State Department and the International Fund for Ireland as well as members of the EastSide Partnership Board for their input and support in enabling me to be part of AMBIT 2022.