by SOPHIA SAKELLARIOU, Production Editor
With a Southern twang and infectious smile, Ireland Twiggs’ warmth and kindness shines out to all who cross her path. Not many juniors in college can say they’ve spent the better part of their lives in the service of others, but that is precisely what Twiggs has done and hopes to continue to do for years to come.
A peace and religious studies major with a minor in Arabic, Twiggs’ looks to her childhood as the source of her passion for service. Born in Georgia, Twiggs’ family moved up and down the East Coast before she was old enough to remember before settling down in Virginia. Twiggs cites that move as the one she remembers most.
“The only big move I remember was from North Carolina to Virginia,” said Twiggs. “I
just started kindergarten so I remember being really upset, but it obviously was easy to adjust because little kids are really friendly.”
Twiggs’ family was nomadic as a result of her father’s military involvement. Moving often is a big part of the military family life. She explained how her father was deployed four or five times so she grew up very active in the base life.
“My sister’s name is America so my family is extremely patriotic,” said Twiggs. “[Base life] made me definitely at a young age become very involved with global issues and awareness of what it meant to be an American.”
Twiggs chose Arabic as a minor because of the love she found for the Middle East in high school. An anthropology class she took in high school paired with growing up in a military family all influenced her interest and love for the culture. After high school she traveled to India and Indonesia and her fascination with the culture and wanderlust spirit really took flight.
“I just loved India, the culture is so rich. I love Hinduism as a religion and I’m fascinated by it. I love the colors, I love the people and my high school teacher was from India so she inspired my love for the country,” said Twiggs.
Twiggs wanted to be in a city after graduation, knowing that for her major a city such as Washington, DC or New York had the most opportunities for the non-profit, service work she hoped to get involved in. However, landing at Manhattan College in the Bronx was a challenge for her.
“Freshman year was really rough for me, I considered transferring a few times,” said Twiggs. “I couldn’t seem to adjust to the fast pace and people are a little colder than what I was used to, but eventually I started to find people and now I love it here.”
For those who know Ireland, the idea of her transferring is blasphemous because of her extensive involvement in the college’s community. Vice President of the junior class, Vice President of Philanthropy in the Sigma Delta Tau Sorority, leader of L.O.V.E. Bethlehem in the spring, leader of Kairos in the fall, host of an art therapy session once a month in the Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center, and assistant to the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Center– Twiggs wears many hats.
Dr. Mehnaz Afridi has been a source of family away from home, teaching Twiggs about kindness and the importance of education as a mentor to her since freshman year. Dr. Afridi is an associate professor of religious studies and serves as director of the Holocaust, Genocide and
Interfaith Center at the college. Twiggs works as her assistant at the center which has recently opened its archives.
“Ireland was in my RELS 110 class and was clearly eager to learn and participate. She asked good questions and was deeply curious about the world,” said Dr. Afridi. “She came across as a mature freshman who wanted to better the world. I offered her the job because she was committed to alleviating human suffering and prejudice but also reliable. I got lucky!”
Twiggs’ devotion to service extends far beyond the MC campus, having been apart of the L.O.V.E. program since freshman year when she went on her first trip to Ecuador.
L.O.V.E. trips are service immersion trips that provide students with opportunities to learn about justice issues in the communities that are most impacted by them. Twiggs found the program to be a perfect fit for her as it combines her love of traveling and peace studies.
She led her first trip her sophomore year in New Orleans. Her family lives there and they were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. To have the opportunity to lead a group of students to help others like her family was invaluable to her.
This spring Twiggs will be leading another L.O.V.E. trip, this time to Bethlehem, where students will explore the city, holy sites, parts of Jerusalem and speak with non-profits to get the lay of the land and immerse themselves in the culture and community.
Unlike most trips that are a semester long commitment, the Bethlehem trip is a full year. Twiggs has her team picked and they will have weekly meetings up until spring break that serve to educate the team on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and religious landmarks. Twiggs is eager to immerse herself in Bethlehem’s culture, but is particularly eager to have the opportunity to practice her Arabic.
Twiggs’ wanderlust spirit will bring her to other parts of the world later this year as well. She recently returned from a trip to Madrid and in the spring she’ll be walking the streets of Paris. Her dream destination? The Middle East.
“Jordan is really big on my list right now,” said Twiggs. “I also wanted to spend two weeks in January at an ashram in India, a yoga and meditation silence retreat, but I’m hesitant as a woman. To fly that far and not speak the language, and India has obviously had a human rights crisis to I sometimes struggle with wanting to really branch out and be a solo woman traveller, but I’m also terrified.”
Twiggs is also involved with service closer to home as she lead the Kairos Retreat this fall. Kairos is a religious retreat in upstate New York that allows students to explore their spirituality and make lasting connections.
Conor Reidy of the Campus Ministry and Social Action Suite at Manhattan College explained why she was chosen for the trip.
“We seek to form a Kairos team that is diverse in experience, major, personality type, and graduating year. As a junior, peace studies major student involved in such a wide array of campus activities, Ireland is an excellent choice for the team,” said Reidy.
“Beyond this though, Ireland is a kind, compassionate and intelligent person: all things we want in a retreat leader,” added Reidy. “She listens to others in order to understand their perspectives, rather than just wait to offer her own. She is incredibly intelligent as well, which shines through in the talk she has prepared to give the 40 plus student participants on Kairos VII. All in all, we are so ecstatic she is on the team.”
In the midst of all this giving and service, I couldn’t help but wonder how Twiggs finds time for herself.
“I’m working on that one,” said Twiggs. “Yoga is something I do a lot and I’ve become really big into gratitude. I do gratitude journaling on my phone every morning and night and I also journal in a physical journal as well.”
Twiggs finds that she journals most about her friends. Being so far from home they’ve become her family and biggest support system. She loves the big community system around her and is especially fond of how they share the same values. Twiggs considers her values to be a major part of who she is and she tries to look for people with the same.
Another secret to balancing it all for Twiggs? Crying.
“I was reading a book this summer called ‘Burnout’ and they talk a lot about how your body can’t distinguish the difference between being chased by a lion and doing your taxes and they say you have to alert your body that it’s gone,” said Twiggs. “I’ve tried to become more in tune as to what my body is demanding so whether that’s crying or sitting on the couch for 12 hours, just listening to what my body wants.”
As for after college plans, it’s all up-in-the-air for Twiggs. Volunteer work is at the forefront of her agenda, considering the Peace Corps or smaller volunteer organizations abroad.
She may apply to do research, or eventually end up in the realm of government and service. As for now, this globetrotter intends to live by her mantra, “Better an oops than a what if.”
Above all, Twiggs wants the world to find the value in gratitude that she has lately, learning to be grateful and express gratitude to other people.
“I hope the world learns to love and be kind to one another. Especially in my field, I’m constantly studying war and awful horrific things,” said Twiggs. “We are all humans and I only see us as all humans, and I hope we can learn to see past each other’s differences to come together.”