Nestled away in a quiet corner of Ballycastle, people of all backgrounds and ages are letting their voices being heard loud and clear, through a unique initiative that promotes discussion of key Irish issues.
Conversations That Matter is a dialogue process between young adults from across the island of Ireland with the aim of surfacing issues deemed important to the present generation of young people and leaders. The topics are inspired by and drawn from the life experience and desires of the young people who take part such as mental health awareness, conflict resolution and environmentalism.
“I think the programme equips the young people with life skills that they can take forward to become engaged active leaders in their community”, said Lisa Mooney, coordinator of the programme.
“The fact that the young people are co-architects of the programme gives them a unique insight and opportunities to really hear and be heard.”
The conversations take place on three weekend residentials in Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organisation. Corrymeela was founded by a former chaplain in World War II, Ray Davey, who was a prisoner of war in Dresden. After returning to Belfast to continue his work as a chaplain, the political, religious and ideological differences in Northern Ireland compelled him along with a group of students from Queens University to establish Corrymeela to address these conflictual issues.
It began before “The Troubles”, and still continues in Northern Ireland’s changing post-conflict society to ameliorate national and local problems by providing a space for an analysis of the underlying dynamics of conflict, fracture, scapegoating and violence that is found in so many spheres of the world today. The organisation today is composed of a dispersed Christian community, with almost 40 full-time staff and dozens of volunteers who make the work possible with around 80,000 volunteer hours every year. Together this community is committed to engage with the world at its points of fracture, faith and potential.
Kerry Logan, a volunteer at Corrymeela and participant in Conversations That Matter, said, “From living in an international community of volunteers to facilitating group activities and everything in between, I have learnt a huge amount during my time volunteering at Corrymeela.
“Working with Conversations that Matter has been one of the highlights of my year. It was a privilege to walk alongside the young adult participants and to see them grow in confidence as they took ownership of the programme, the conversations they engaged in, the sessions they stepped up to facilitate and the goals they took home.”
Those who take part in the programme are drawn from different socio-economic, religious, educational, geographical and political positions which allows for the provision of well-informed and even opposing viewpoints to the various issues being discussed.
One of the central questions from which all the conversations emerge is ‘What does it mean to live well together?’ Those who complete the programme will leave with a greater awareness of ‘the other’, and with a greater sense of responsibility toward the wider issues of reconciliation, justice and peace.
Aisling Connolly, a fourth-year Trinity College student said that the programme is important because “it brings the Northern and Southern youth together to discuss and subsequently learn how to take action on issues affecting us all.”
The conversations are not pre-determined which allows every participant to share and shape the content and format of the discussions. Every issue raised is given considerable attention and is further developed during the residentials, with particular goals set mind at its conclusion.
In August, participants of Conversations That Matter attended a conflict resolution programme in Germany, along with other international groups. It addressed some of the fundamental questions that are relevant globally today such as democracy and the future of Europe. Activities involved interrogating the rumours and stereotypes embedded into our perceptions of other countries, as well as reevaluating our moral values by deciding where human worth lies.
John McCaul Jnr, who attended the programme said, “Without doubt, the seminar was an action-packed and enriching experience that I will reflect and draw on for a long time to come. In addition to learning about the welfare of refugees in continental Europe, I learned from and shared knowledge; experiences and culture with my German; Lithuanian and Polish counterparts.”
The participants were able to inform and present to the international groups on specifically Irish issues too, including poverty and Brexit.
By a providing an accessible platform for young people to discuss the vital issues of today, their voices will begin to reverberate throughout their communities so that real and positive differences can be made.
For more information about Conversations That Matter, and how to get involved, email email@example.com