Equality was the theme of Youth Work Ireland’s conference this year, which was held in the beautiful Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. The conference was attended by national Youth Work Ireland groups as well as representatives from various other youth-led organisations. It was evident from everyone in the room that we were all there for the same purpose. We all believe in the power of young people to create a positive change in the world.
The conference was opened with a discussion on equality. It was demonstrated that access to education is something which is unequal in Ireland. Three volunteers attempted to reach graduation caps which were placed high up on the wall. It was easy for the tallest person to reach but the other two people had difficulty. When they were all given a chair, they could reach the caps. However, the point was made that giving the same resources to everyone still does not ensure equality, as it made it even easier for the tallest person to reach the cap. Although we all have similar needs, the resources and facilities we need to access these needs are different.
We were then given boxes with letters spelling out equality on them. Throughout the day, we were encouraged to ‘think outside the box’ and write our thoughts and feelings on the box. We then heard from five young people sharing their stories of what equality means to them. Many had experienced inequality in their daily lives, having to tackle discrimination, racism and stereotypical views. We then heard from the keynote speakers such as Emily Logan of the IHREC, Minister Katherine Zappone and Senator David Norris. They encouraged us not only to look at young people as the future, but also as the present.
The second session was a panel discussion, which included speakers such as Senator Aodhán Ó Riordán and Emily Logan. Topics such as the government’s position on equality, direct provision and LGBTQ+ rights were discussed. It was obvious that the marriage equality referendum has proved to be a lasting success that many have used as their template for future campaigning.
After lunch, there were workshops about working with the Traveller community, disability awareness, work experience and social action. I chose to attend the social action workshop. The workshop was run by a group of undocumented young people living in Ireland called Young, Paperless and Powerful. This was by far the most beneficial part of the day as I learned that as soon as these young people turn 18, they become essentially ‘invisible’ to the state. They cannot attend college, get a job, medical card or a driver’s licence. They are seeking a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and have been doing so for the past two years. Even though they have experienced many setbacks, they are still adamant that they will meet the Minister and improve their situation. I learned how to run a successful campaign within my organisation and how to gain more confidence when addressing public representatives. As well as the workshops, there was an exhibition space where organisations such as NYCI showcased their work. There were TED-style talks given by inspiring speakers from TENI and Senator Fintan Warfield.
The day came to a close with everyone taking a vote on the theme for next year’s conference, which hopes to promote positive attitudes towards sexual health. Overall, I left feeling empowered, ready to take action and raise awareness about equality within IGG and my community.
~ Amy McAuley, Drogheda