The PSEPII funds have provided funding for a Project Manager and a Youth Worker. In addition they have provided funding for programme activities and mileage allowance for the Project Manager.
The aim of the project is not to create a dependency on a team of reconciliation 'experts' from outside. Instead the project works in partnership with community leaders interested in establishing sustainable and meaningful cross community/cross border programmes that address sectarianism. The project is building lasting relationships at an individual, community and organisational level. Such empowerment helps to create strong indigenous leadership. The project is encouraging communities to take ownership of cross community and cross border work. These community roots are essential in order to sustain tripartite partnerships. There are two community leaders from each group. Participants are marginalised communities from Belfast, Omagh and Tandragee. Northern Ireland groups are from adjacent Protestant and Catholic communities. In these areas there are few areas of sustainable cross community initiatives. Each group has an even balance of Protestants and Catholics. The young people are between 14 and 17 years old. Each Northern Ireland group has a partner from the Republic of Ireland. They are marginalised communities in Dublin and Inniskeen in Monaghan. The programme will last for three years. The project begins with single identity work and then confidence building to establish trust between the participants. This includes social activities, outdoor education and prejudice awareness exercises. Activities such as canoeing and environmental projects encourage co-operation and team work. Bowling and ice-skating are enjoyable social activities that help to relax participants.
A drama project and a tradition hard skills programme provides an opportunity to acquire new life skills and enhance employment prospects. Group sessions help to build up trust, co-operation, empathy and positive regard. By using and practising these group skills, participants address issues of sectarianism, discrimination and prejudice in a safe and supportive environment. This group process encourages awareness, understanding and acceptance of the other group's cultural, religious and political traditions. Leaders and participants have considerable input in the design, implementation and evaluation of their programme. Health education and life skills make participants more aware of their responsibilities in relation to sexual behaviour, substance abuse, alcohol abuse and crime avoidance.
The way forward:
It will take time for trust and forgiveness to develop, time for
sectarian attitudes to change. I feel we have begun a journey
based on the principles of pluralism and partnership. There is
an old Chinese proverb that says a journey of a thousand miles
begins with one small step. Hopefully these steps we are taking
together will lead to an island were both traditions can live
together in acceptance, peace and prosperity.