Newry cross-community group enjoys ‘amazing’ Youth Exchange programme

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Thursday, October 1st, 2015
Community, News
Over the summer 14 young people from a cross-community group in Newry & Mourne and 15 young people from Bavaria in Germany developed a partnership to manage a youth exchange programme. youth exchange1The theme was ‘How your culture shapes your identity’. One of the local group members, Thomas Hanna, reflected on the experience, labelling it as ‘amazing’. “I have had an amazing experience during the past few weeks but also over the past two years where we have been organising and planning our exchange. “The programme has been so much more than the time we spent in Rostrevor and Bavaria,” he insisted. “The programme has run from April 2014 and we have accomplished so much as a group. We completed our OCN level 2 in Prejudice and Discrimination where we learnt more about different cultures and communities in our country.” The group also completed workshops with the Eastern European, Irish Traveller and LGBT communities which Thomas says has helped develop a better understanding of different people. He continued, “Much of our work focused on breaking down and understanding sectarianism in our country. I think I speak on behalf of the whole group when I say we’ve gained a new insight into both the Protestant and Catholic communities and we have made good friends from both sides.” Highlighting the necessity of such programmes to initiate conversations about what some might consider awkward topics, he explained, “My personal perspective is that work like this is so important as it starts conversations that don’t happen in our homes. youth exchange2“It brings together people with different opinions and sparks dynamic conversation that will only help our communities to move forward. This happened within our own group and then again when combined with our partnering German group. I feel this type of youth work is invaluable in terms of promoting understanding.” The programme in Northern Ireland was carefully planned to give the partner German group a good balance of fun and learning. It included team building games during the first few days to help the two groups get to know each other. As the programme evolved, visits to parliament buildings, jails and cultural venues were explored. “We explored many aspects of politics and culture in Northern Ireland visiting Stormont, Belfast for a political tour, Downpatrick band parade, Crumlin Road Jail and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. “This helped give me personally a better insight into our political system and I learnt so much from this week in terms of politics and how it affects us on a daily basis. This project gave us the opportunity to talk and listen to the opinions of Unionist politicians, which was a new experience coming from a predominantly nationalist area.” Over in Germany, the local group explored Bavarian culture; food, visiting their famous castle, touring Burghausen and Munich. “The area was beautiful and made the experience even better to be hosted in such a pretty town,” he explained. “This trip helped us see the differences in two cultures that I thought would be more similar as they are also a developed nation. It was simple things like architecture, food and the differences in use of social media that highlighted cultural differences and made us think more closely about our lives and how our culture has an impact. They also visited a concentration camp, which Thomas says gave the group cause for reflection. “The concentration camp was an incredibly humbling experience and taught us more about one of the greatest tragedies in history. “It was so much more interesting and thought provoking than reading about it in any textbook and it provoked feelings that I won’t forget. “It raised bigger questions in myself and among the group such as ‘how could such a thing happen?’ and ‘could it ever happen again?’. It created conversations among young people that are valuable to creating a peaceful future.” Summing up the experience, Thomas said, “I can honestly say the exchange was an unforgettable experience which taught me a lot about myself, my own culture and another while having so much fun. It helped to increase my confidence and it created friendship with people both in my own group and the German group. “The work that was done through this exchange made a strong, positive impact on each member and that’s something money cannot buy,” he added.

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