Eimear Kiely describes her experience of a youth leadership programme in Limerick
Anois is a youth leadership programme offered to secondary school students by the youth ministry team of the Limerick diocese since 1994. Anois has adapted Paulo Freire’s ‘Training for Transformation’ programme, which is often used with community development groups, to make it more accessible to young students.
All the students who apply are interviewed by Aoife Walsh (co-ordinator) and Fr Chris O’Donnell. After deliberations with their team in the Limerick Diocesan Pastoral Centre eight students are chosen to represent their school.
This year the residential programme ran over three weeks in St Patrick’s College, Thurles. Each week 40 students from five different schools and 17 leaders (mostly college students) spend four very full days and nights working together to develop their leadership skills. Groups return to their schools with the intention of undertaking a project that will benefit the school, the community or a charity that is dear to their hearts.
The projects vary greatly. Some groups have co-ordinated peer mentoring programmes in their schools, fundraised for sports equipment, ran sports days, organised icebreakers to help first years and transition year students to get to know each other better and have created a space for sixth year students to relax.
One of last year’s groups from Scoil na Tríonóide Naofa, Doon won a Limerick Garda Youth Award. Unfortunately one of their teachers, Alan Feeley – someone who epitomised all the qualities of leadership and service – died quite suddenly. As a tribute to this teacher and as a way of raising awareness of organ donation, this group embarked on a campaign titled #LiveLifeGive Life.
The main focus of the campaign was the promotion and sale of wristbands in the school and the local community. The money raised was donated to organ donation and the Donal Walsh Foundation. The group’s efforts have earned them the special achievement award which they dedicated to their late teacher.
After hearing about the Anois programme from other students in my school who attended, I immediately knew that it was for me. I was very nervous at the thoughts of leaving home for four days, but I have to say everybody made me feel very comfortable and we were all like one big happy family by the time we left on Thursday afternoon.
Each day was very different and we were set new challenges and tasks that would test us both physically and mentally.
Each school group was assigned three leaders and a break away room where various tasks would be set for the school group to complete.
The aim of the set tasks was to improve communication, participation and listening skills. In the evenings after supper we would take part in activities such as a table quiz, Anois Idol, etc.
During these activities we were spilt up into different groups away from the boundaries of our school groups.
This was quite daunting at first but after the initial awkwardness it was like we had known each other all our lives.
The days also started and ended with prayer. It was not like the prayer we are used to at Mass. Nice stories were chosen and verses read and we got to play our part. We sat in silence and also got to sing songs that might not normally be thought of as fitting for prayer.
Morning prayer always finished with an action song or fun liturgical dancing to wake us up and night prayer always finished with a bed time story that had a positive message. Each school group and their leaders took it in turns to prepare either the morning or evening ceremony.
Everybody woke with heavy hearts on the last day because nobody wanted to go home. We were having way too much fun to leave.
We had all made so many new friends and learnt so much in such a short space of time. We did activities that brought us outside of our comfort zones and helped us come over our fears whatever they might have been.
The Anois experience is hard to describe because it is one in a lifetime.
Unless you were lucky enough to have been on the journey you couldn’t possibly describe everything that happened on it. It is a jam packed experience that leaves you thankful that you were on it and hopefully that you will be lucky enough to go back as a leader some day in the future.
The programme has helped to me grow in self-confidence and for that I am eternally grateful. Everybody was accepted for who they are and the leadership skills are such a bonus to everyday life. Currently we are working on a project in our school to raise awareness of mental health and we are also in the process of organising fundraisers for MS Ireland as it is a charity close to all of our hearts.
Hopefully our project will be a success, but if it isn’t we know that the experiences we had and the friendships we made will hopefully stay with us forever.
I got to know the seven others from my school so much better and also made so many great friends from other schools. The friendships we made and the existing friendships that were deepened were such a big part of the experience.