The SAOL Project was started in 1995 as a result of findings from a Master’s thesis on ‘Women and Addiction’. Carmel Dunne, a local Health Service manager, noted that women on methadone needed specific services that could attend to their needs. Community leaders accepted the validity of the findings and worked hard to secure funding to start a project for women from the area.
It’s not a surprising start for a project like SAOL. Throughout our story so far we have, time and again, taken ideas from research and from community voices and developed responses that help the women who come to SAOL and the men and women who attend other services throughout the country.
Since the day that the first classes were held in SAOL [16th October, 1995] we have been supported by the community and statutory sector and European colleagues in providing education and support for more than 350 different women; graduating 10 ‘CE groups’; caring for more than 250 children; training more than 2,000 professionals; and facilitating more than 25,000 downloads and publications of addiction manuals, reports and poetry.
In SAOL we are educators, inspired by feminism and Paulo Freire. In ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, Freire says, “Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.” Our work as educators in SAOL is to ensure that the women who come to SAOL can engage in their own decision-making processes. When we stop doing this, we will have failed; when there is no more need for us to do this, we will have succeeded.
SAOL was set up initially to work with 16 women every 2 years. SAOL adapts and changes and since 2008 we have also developed aftercare supports so that we now provide more than 28 hours of classes every week; key working to every participant who attends; at least 10 hours of psycho-educational group-work per week; and that is not including a minimum of 20 hours of pre-school early education childcare for up to 10 children per week. Any woman who calls to SAOL’s door will be welcomed and offered support immediately. Access to group-work may take a little longer; but we do not operate a waiting list because we believe that if a woman is brave enough to knock on our door, then we need to meet her without delay.
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