MORE than 300 young people from every constituency in Ireland, who are engaged in their communities through youth work, showed up to the Mansion House, Dublin recently to talk to their local politicians including TDs, Senators, Councillors and MEPs.
I was part of a YMCA Ireland group, representing Cork South-West electoral area, attending the National Youth Showcase entitled ‘Youth Work Changes Lives’ in hopes of raising awareness regarding the impact of youth work and the need for increased funding.
The event – organised by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) – and addressed by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone, T.D. gave young people at 39 stands in the room, representing all constituencies, a chance to speak with leading Irish politicians about youth work programmes and how we believe “youth work changes lives”. We also took the opportunity to confront them on issues affecting the youth of Ireland.
The youth work sector benefits more than 380,000 young people each year! Much of this good work goes unnoticed but this was our chance to show the real difference it is making.
Everything I have done with my local YMCA in West Cork over the last two years have helped shape and develop my own mind and self. I have been given endless opportunities to push myself. There is no class, school or exam that could have given me the experiences I have been granted and I am forever grateful to the youth work sector for giving me confidence, education, creative thinking, life skills and so much more.
Young people representing Cork South-Central in the stand near us had amazing testimonies on the invaluable impact youth work has.
Roisin Evans, a regular participant within both the GroundFloor and Youth information and Advocacy programmes in YMCA Cork, spoke of challenges such as anorexia, anxiety and depression, relating to trauma from bullying and abandonment. Speaking to Senator Grace O’Sullivan, Roisin said that Youth Work “provided affection, care, support and encouragement that was lacking in [her] life’.
Darren Woulfe, now a part of the support team for Elevate (YMCA’s Drug & Alcohol recovery programme), has faced problems of drug and alcohol addiction, homlessness, suicide and self harm. Speaking with Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire of Sinn Fein, he said; “I was lost. I didn’t know who I was. The YMCA showed me compassion and gave me the support to find who I am and my direction”.
These programmes are providing tremendous assistance to young people facing challenges such as those mentioned above. Members of the Oireachtas also heard about the challenge facing YMCA’s Vocational Training Programme, STEP. The early school leaver initiative has operated for over 30 years but is this year dealing with significant cuts to funding.
Ilda Geraldo and Diamond Nzekwe spoke about the creative opportunities they have accessed through the YMCA, which otherwise would have remained elusive. Ilda’s skill as an Artist and Diamond’s passion for playing and writing music have been nurtured in programmes such as GroundFloor. They spoke of how the provision of creative spaces, as well as artistic resources and support, have given them joy, confidence, ambition and the chance to engage in a positive means of expression.
Poppy Cairns, at our Cork South-West table, also shared the benefits of her creativity being nurtured by taking part in YMCA digital creativity opportunities as part of the West Cork Youth Information & Advocacy service. She said; “The YMCA has helped me to build on my experience with the Irish Girl Guides where I have learned what it is to be a responsible citizen. I have since developed my critical literacy skills and now I feel informed about my future career decision.
“I’m always asking myself the question, but the best thing [benefits of YMCA activities] is that I know what I want to do after school.”
As a group of Corkonians, all hailing from the area famous for its natural beauty that is West Cork, we had a lot of questions concerning climate change, lack of facilities in the West Cork area for young people and of course the need for more funding for youth work because of how much it has improved each of our lives. We engaged with our Cork South-West representatives Independent Michael Collins T.D. and Fianna Fáil’s Margaret Murphy-O’Mahony T.D.
Some of our group were recent guests of Margaret Murphy-O’Mahony T.D. at Leinster House during the Easter holidays — on the day that Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, addressed the Dáil. She asked us about the experience and we discussed possible Brexit scenarios. We explained that we recorded our learning from the trip in a podcast.
The conversations got controversial on the topic of a new plastics factory in Skibbereen town and a licence for kelp extraction from Bantry Bay, neither agreed with the development of both projects’ but it was difficult to see their reinforcement of such views up in Dublin. Despite this, it was great to hear that our politicians from rural areas cared about climate change and Deputy Collins wanted to meet with us on a later date to discuss further youth engagement with him.
The atmosphere at the event was high energy and fun filled with a caricature drawer, a DJ, an Instagram picture booth and the MC was 2FM’s Eoghan McDermott. This was exciting for us as we were delighted to be invited to a photocall at the beginning of the event with him.
The event itself was a fantastic opportunity for the young people of Ireland, who have a very strong social conscience and are actively engaging in their communities and country, to meet with those in political power, particularly from their own areas. The strong sense was that youth voice and engagement is critical not just in Ireland but everywhere. The youth of today are interested in politics and what is going to affect their lives whether those in power like that or not we aren’t going to leave, and now more than ever young people are active, vocal and critical thinkers. Young people are not our future leaders, we are TODAY’S leaders!