Young people and youth workers from Ardoyne and the Shankill have reached across the city divide to take part in a mission of mercy to Africa.
The Belfast to Blanco initiative sees young people from Ardoyne Youth Club and the Hammer Youth Club team up to travel to the Blanco township in Cape Town, South Africa, where they work on maintenance projects and provide diversionary activities for young people.
Last year’s inaugural trip proved such success that a second team of volunteers will jet out today. Paul Dynes, a worker in the Hammer Youth Club, said cross-community relationships are being built that will last a lifetime. He added that since last year’s group returned the links between Hammer YC and Ardoyne YC have never been stronger.
“The impact this is having on community relations is huge and with what is going on up at Twaddell that can only be a good thing,” said Paul. “This is young people from Ardoyne and the Shankill taking part in a very positive programme and when they come back they are able to put that good work into the community. Since the first trip to Blanco we now have young people coming down here to work as youth workers and then young ones from here going up to Ardoyne a couple of nights a week and that can only be good. The experience they get out there is feeding directly back in here.”
The group will be based in the Blanco sub-division of George, which suffers from crushing poverty and high rates of crime. While there, they help with building projects as well as developing diversionary programmes for youth and young offenders.
Ardoyne lad Gerard Magee, 18, said: “We have been doing leadership courses but I am hoping that my confidence will improve from the work I do out there because I am lacking in that. I really don’t know what to expect, though.”
His pal Pierce McConnell said there was a lot of excitement the group.
“I haven’t been before but a load of my mates have,” he said. “I have heard all their stories but I think it’s something you have to experience for yourself. I am excited about going.”
Woodvale schoolgirl Chelsea Dunwoody, 17, said females in the townships are in particular need of support.
“I have been told to expect to only see women and children in the townships because the men spend a lot of time away from the homes,” she said. “Friends of mine who have gone to Blanco before say the women want you to get involved in helping them with their children and babies so that will be good, although I am nervous too.”
Paul said Belfast will be kept up to date with progress through regular online reports of the work being done.
“There is a great sense of pride from the programme,” he said. “People who know about it are checking out the website and reading the blogs. A video on the website has had over 34,000 hits from last year and this year’s Facebook page has only been set up a few weeks but already has over 1,000 likes.”
For more information visit www.belfast2blanco.com.