I have waited 19 years to have this opportunity; An opportunity that millions of people around the world are not given. At mid-day, accompanied by my mom, I made my way to the local polling station with my iPod in my pocket, my drivers license in my hand and a grin on my face.
I guess you could say that I was a little bit excited as we approached the entrance to the hall. I whipped out the iPod and insisted that my mom took a picture of me next to the placard that indicated we were at the right place.
I wonder what the onlooker must have been thinking as she witnessed my strange excitement over something perceived as so mundane in this country. Usually I would be very self conscious about drawing attention to myself, but not today. I couldn't have cared less about what people around me perceived as I coerced my mom into taking numerous pictures throughout my voting process.
Casting my vote was something I found so truly exhilarating. I actually felt enormously proud that I, whom in my mind is a nobody, actually did something meaningful.
I used my voice and in my opinion , that pride was something worth documenting.
So if you haven't voted yet, get moving and experience that same pride I have.
“Hey mum, did you see the new trees?!”
“On the green and also all around the estate!”
So off they went to see the new trees. 37 new trees planted all around their estate. All the neighbours were talking about it, and everybody was excited.
One week later:
“Hey mum, did you see somebody broke some off the branches from the trees in our estate, and some of the trees in the next door estate have been broken in half!”
“No, I did not, are you serious?”
“Come. I’ll show you”
So of we went to see the broken trees. Five of the newly planted trees in bits! All the neighbours were talking about it, and everybody was disappointed.
Two weeks later:
“Hey mum we need to do something about the trees, if we do not do something now, there is not going to be a tree left after summer!”
“So, what can we do?”
“We need to get people involved, we need to do something!”
“Okay, you guys can do something and we will support you”
Four weeks later, 16-year-old brothers Juvan and Christivan Maritz applied and received a small Superhero fund from SpunOut.ie to make a difference in their local community. Here is how they got on with their project:
They designed a leaflet and a registration form and distributed it to more than 80 homes in the estate. They wrote to 14 people asking for support or a contribution towards their project. These people included two local politicians, a community project, the Gardaí, the local Council, local print media and local small businesses.
Their idea was to create community awareness and initiate a neighbourhood community policing system to keep and eye on the newly planted trees and general vandalism in the communal area of the Balruddery Wood estate. They also planned a big community festival on the green. 23 homes (more than 30%) signed up for the project, with more than 40 people confirmed for the Green Festival.
On 30 April 2011, at 5pm, the festival took place. The local pub, Balrothery Inn, sponsored burgers, soft drinks and crisps. Tesco Balbriggan also provided party goodies and committed to sponsor a signpost to promote the project.
“Ladies, gentleman and kids. You are very welcome at the launch of our Superhero project sponsored by SpunOut.ie. SpunOut.ie is Ireland's national youth project. Myself and Christivan applied for a small [fund] to make a difference in our community. We are one from eleven projects all over Ireland that are trying to make a difference in our community. We are gathered here today to celebrate our community spirit. We with 10 other projects were selected out of hundreds of applications to make people aware of caring for our environment. We are also concerned about anti-social behaviour, especially the breaking of branches of our newly planted trees and vandalism in our estate.
"We do not have an easy solution, all that we can offer is to create awareness and encourage everybody in the estate to address vandalism and anti-social behaviour. We have invited our community Guards. If you have any questions please feel free to approach them at any time of the day.
“To conclude, I want to say a special thanks to our sponsors Spunout.ie. Balrothery Inn kindly sponsored the burgers, crisps and soft drinks. Thank you Brendan. To Ann O’Brien from Tesco, who sponsored the sweets and other goodies. Today we can also announce that Tesco gave their commitment to sponsor a signpost that will promote the TreeCops Project. This signpost will be displayed at the entrance of this estate and will be a reminder to all that live here as well as guests that we are serious about our trees!
“Thank you for your attendance and special thanks to our community Guards: Gráinne and Kate, for coming down today. Enjoy the burgers and the rest of the day. Then lastly we are now going to plant a tree if the children would like to help they are most welcome.”
The festival was a huge success with lots of new ideas shared between neighbours. Three more project ideas emerged from the community gathering. One is to have street safety awareness training for the children of the estate in conjunction with the Community Guards; another one is to start a petition to the developers to put up a fence at the road side of the green (hopefully local politicians will support us in this regard as it is long outstanding); and the final one is to advocate for seating benches on the green.
All in all, the TreeCops Project was a huge success!
Activism = Campaigning = Organising = Community = Protesting = Building Alternatives = Challenging = Rethinking = Creating
We are all aware of the problems that require our urgent love and attention, both the local and the global; poverty, injustice, the environment, health, wars, resource distribution, politics and yes the global economic model to name but a few. But what I want to deal with here is the issue of power, and more specifically of us all taking ownership of our own power.
We do not live ‘atomic’ separate existences. Even the most reclusive of people live within networks of culture, of law, of infrastructure, of ideas, of education, of politics, and of the systems that deliver and disperse resources. These systems are all created by the actions of humans. This might seem a very obvious thing to say so maybe by now you are asking what on earth I am on about? I’m talking about how individuals and groups can affect these man-made systems and structures. In short, I’m talking about Activism.
The word activism is often taken as a synonym for ‘protest’ but if we use that shorthand explanation it can fool us into thinking that ‘Activism’ is not something we need to concern ourselves with. Not True! We are all ‘active’ in some way or another to create or sustain the types of systems we live in:
When we ignore or abdicate from something as crucial as our place in the world or our community and how we engage with it, we give others permission to engineer our society for us. By allowing others to ‘create society for me’ we are engaging in what we think is harmless ‘inactivity’ but actually manifests itself as a support for things as they are. To take the fitness analogy, not taking control of one’s diet and exercise will have a direct effect on one’s body. Not taking action on the issues that concern you will also have an effect on your society.
Think for a minute of the many things that we take for granted today in Ireland as rights or entitlements, for example weekends or days off from work, voting rights for women, the right not to be a slave, the right to have sex only by choice, the right not to be sentenced to death, or the right to choose our own interests and political affiliations to name just a few.
None of these ‘rights’ are things that were donated or asked for by some generous and wise benefactors. These are all things that people sometime somewhere saw as necessary. They imagined how they would look and function, and then came together to achieve them. I am certain that these people argued, disagreed, conceded and perhaps eventually settled for less than their ideals. We know though, that they continued to struggle and work to get these rights for the very reason that we now have the luxury of taking some of them for granted (though we shouldn’t!).
This work of achieving such freedoms took place over generations, and continued in the face of hardship and resistance. But those involved, to use a euphemism ‘carried the flame’ until these ideas became so firmly entrenched in our culture, that in some shape or form (and imperfect though their realisation might still be) these rights all became socially, legally and culturally deemed as the ‘norm’.
This does not mean that no-one here is oppressed or that we have perfect gender equality, but it does mean that our culture and institutions recognise these as things to which people are entitled; ‘standards’ is a useful word to describe them and that it is recognised as either deviance or criminality when these rights are not respected.
To summarise what I am saying here I will use a quote from anthropologist, Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has.’’
In my opinion, getting involved with issues that concern you is one of the most important things a young person can begin to do. Have you ever heard about an event in history, or heard something in the news that made you really angry or upset? Something that really frustrated you, because you felt like you couldn’t do anything about it?
Well, getting involved with organisations like Amnesty International or Spunout.ie is one way for you to make a substantial difference. Whether you’re signing a petition, or helping out with a demonstration, there’s nothing better than the feeling that you can help change those issues that frustrate you.
And the changes can be substantial. You only need to look at a handful of success stories on Amnesty’s website to know that speaking out for other people, as a group/organisation, works: Aung San Suu Kyi was finally freed in 2010 after over 15 years under house arrest – thanks to thousands of people demanding her release. In 2011, Illinois banned the death penalty.
Many human rights activists and prisoners of conscience (e.g. Emadeddin Baghi, Mao Hengfeng) have been released due to petitions, letters of appeal, demonstrations and protests carried out by Amnesty International and other organisations with similar motives.
Although some of these achievements may seem small in the grand scheme of things, one small victory can have a ripple effect.
So, my advice to young people in Ireland is to use your voice. Don’t be afraid to say what you feel, even if you’re worried about sounding silly sometimes. You may be surprised at the respect you’ll earn from people (whether it’s peers or adults) from simply being outspoken. You may also be surprised at how one person or group of people, if they’re determined enough, can help change the world. Do not be mute.
Remember these sayings:
”Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say”. - William Shakespeare
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. - Mary Mead
Check out our factsheets and opinion pieces on engaging in society. This is a key area that the SpunOut Action Panel has prioritised for 2013.
Tips to help you take action and make a positive difference.
Ireland is a democracy, which means the people elect their representatives and government by means of secret ballot.
Joining a political party means that you are registering with a political party and letting them and the world know that you generally support their causes and activates.
One SpunOutter gives her opinions on whether the voting age should be lowered to 16.
Ireland is a constitutional democracy (you’ve lost me already SpunOut!). Well, this basically means that we get to have a say in who runs our country and what the laws of the land are.
The Know Your Rights information packs are provided by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL). They are a series of booklets designed to inform people about their rights, which the ICCL has rolled out as part of its Know Your Rights public information project. The booklet is designed to inform the general public, in clear and accessible language, of their rights in the areas of Garda search powers, arrest, interview, detention, provision of bodily samples and public order.
The State gets its power from the People of Ireland through the Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann). The Constitution sets out some of the rights of people who live in Ireland. We also have rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). All agents of the State, including An Garda Síochána, must act in line with the Constitution and the ECHR.
The Constitution is interpreted by the courts and is supplemented by more detailed laws, which must also be in line with the Constitution. The law must also follow the ECHR and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Gardaí must act according to court rulings and legislation, otherwise they may be breaking the law.
If you have any doubts about the way you have been treated by the Gardaí, if they have interfered with any of your rights, you should contact a solicitor.
International Women’s Day has been running for over 100 years, but we know that women have been inspiring change for much longer than that. For me, a 28 year old, women have been inspiring change in my life but also shaping and inspiring the world around me for every one of those 28 years.
I think that it’s really important for men to acknowledge and reflect on the impact and inspiration that women offer on a daily basis. I know for me that personal change and social change that I’ve been a part of is shaped in a major way by some really amazing people. The first woman that comes to mind is my mother. A pediatric nurse for more than 30 years, working nights and coming home to work days with two children bouncing off the walls (and still bouncing). She was able to manage death, abuse and other horrific images and come home to give us love, warmth and attention. I think she inspires me to be a caring, compassionate and dedicated person. And I’m going to be forever indebted to her for, what I think are, the good qualities that she has inspired. And I try to bring those things into my daily work.
Now that I work for SpunOut.ie, I get to work with incredible people on a daily basis and over the last two years I get blown away on a daily basis. I’m lucky enough to work with a number of women in different roles. Young writers like Mairead Carey, courageously sharing her story to make a difference around mental health and suicide. Young activists and journalists like Clara Barry and Sarah Bermingham, who at events and meetings bowl you over with the steely drive and desire for justice and dignity. People like Robyn Gilmour and Laura Gaynor, who exude artistic talent that captures moods and feelings. To social change activists like Lisa Marie Sheehy and Aine O’Connell, who stand up on issues like bullying, sexual health and politics, where it’s maybe sometimes easier not to. People like Avril Clarke, taking social entrapeurship by the scruff of the neck and developing new ideas. And there's lots LOTS more too....you know who you are.
I go to work everyday and am surrounded, if not bombarded by talent, drive and passion from women. SpunOut.ie provides a platform for young women and young men to radiate and grow that inspiration that they have within. We trust and value that ability within women to be change makers and inspire all people. And I’m very much privileged to be in a position to work with these young people. I wake up each day and am thankful for all I have learnt from the courageous and truly amazing women in my life.
This year's theme for International Women’s Day is "Inspiring Change". It’s clear that the world that we live in is still unequal. We just have to look to our parliament, domestic violence and abuse, the world of work, boardrooms and other areas. I think that as men we have to be more open to supporting women to bring balance to the world and society that we live in. Not some kind of tokenistic rubbishy kind of way, nor a “doing it for you approach”. But if we (men) open our eyes, just a little, we’ll see that equality is nothing to be afraid of, it benefits everyone. Having strong female leaders in our society is not a threat to men, but will only improve the world we live in by adding diversity, different perspectives, drive and passion. We need to no longer block pathways but stand beside women as equals not as inhibitors. I know I learn so much from the women I meet and work with. So if you’re a man, you can do a few things:
It’s important for everyone to look after their mental health but perhaps even more important for people in marginalised groups to look after theirs. One such group is the trans (formally known as transgender) population of Ireland.
A new report has been released in association with the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (TENI) which looked at a sample of trans people from across the country with regard to their mental health and wellbeing. It is the largest study of its kind to be carried out in Ireland, with 164 participants. The report had bittersweet findings for trans people.
Despite these sobering statistics, the study showed significant improvements post-transition.
So, the report has shown that mental health is a major issue for trans people in Ireland. It also found that the health services in Ireland are not up to scratch with regards to trans people. Almost 800 health and social care professionals responded to a separate survey about working with trans people.
What the report has shown is that trans people are in the unfortunate position of being one of society’s most vulnerable groups with regards to mental health; yet they have very few services they can access to get through these issues. The majority of participants found that being trans has both positive and negative effects on their life satisfaction.
For more information on trans mental health, check out the support section on TENI’s website, www.teni.ie.
Tuesday 25th February saw the Children's Rights Alliance launch the sixth edition of their annual Report Card, which assesses whether the government has kept its promises to children and young people on a number of issues. Although the government received an overall ‘C’ grade, there were some stark examples of much-needed improvement.
Perhaps unexpectedly, given the government’s commitments to protecting it, mental health did not fare well, receiving an ‘E’ grade (an even worse performance than last year). Waiting lists for initial appointments increased in 2013. In fact, from September 2012 to September 2013, 413 young people had been waiting over a year to see a mental health professional. Early intervention in any health problem is essential.
Unfortunately though, mental health conditions can often slip under the radar, and the entrenchment into one’s disorder can go unnoticed. There are some truly heart-breaking stories of individuals who slipped through the cracks as children or teenagers, and are now sadly resigned to their condition.
Equally disturbing is the incidence of young people being placed in adult facilities. Anyone who has set foot in an adult psychiatric facility can testify that they are pretty daunting places; certainly not somewhere for those under 18 to be resident. Yet 68 children spent time in these services from January to September 2013. This was above the government’s target of 50 – but, as was pointed out at the launch, why is this target not zero? Why should any young people in a vulnerable situation be subject to untargeted, inappropriate care? Mental health conditions have a horrible habit of marking people as ‘outsiders’. Child and adolescent facilities provide a space where young people can receive the treatment they deserve without being cut off from their peers.
It does not – and should not – have to be like this. The provision of more focused resources, for example in the form of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (currently over-worked and under-staffed) and more logical planning (currently beds in adolescent units remain vacant whilst children sleep in adult units) would be positive – and achievable - moves toward a real vision for change.
Whilst the reasons behind mental health conditions are considerably varied, one consistent risk factor is substance abuse. Unfortunately for Irish young people, the area of alcohol and drugs did not fare too well in the Report Card either, receiving a ‘D+’. Although this is a slight step up from last year’s ‘D’ grade, it still indicates significant room for improvement. Not only is our culture of binge drinking bad news for mental health, it’s also the harbinger of physical complications, violence and public order offences. Not to mention being a constant source of peer pressure for those who wish not to engage in alcohol-fuelled recreation.
Minimum pricing has been deemed a significant factor in reducing alcohol consumption, so it’s good news that the government intends to develop legislation to introduce this. Yet, the markets clearly win out when it comes to the proposed ban on alcohol-centred advertising, which has been deemed ‘unrealistic’ by the powers that be. However, with the rise of social media, it’s easier than ever for these companies to target people of all ages with tempting (yet potentially damaging) material.
It’s not only alcohol that people are turning to when they need a pick-me-up; drug use is becoming increasingly normalised in modern culture, with illicit drugs becoming more and more available online. What’s all the fuss? Well, it’s a slippery slope, with one substance often leading onto another – with drug addiction a not unthinkable occurrence. Even more troubling is the phenomenon of young people being coerced into drug-dealing gangs, with many witnessing, or being victim of, gang-related fatalities. There is no doubt that a range of measures –from government down – must be put in place to educate and inform people of the dangers they face, and impose strict sanctions on those responsible.
Last year, a group of 23 teenagers made a film in conjunction with the Alliance which focused on some of the most pertinent issues affecting Irish young people today. A key theme that emerged was the lack of recreational spaces currently on offer. It’s hard to stay away from bars and clubs when there are little or no alternatives. The Report Card has taken this up, and has called for sustained investment in alcohol and drug-free spaces for young people.
A sense of belonging (physical and emotional) is integral to a strong sense of self. Both mental health and substance use have, in 2013, been areas where young people – be it through poor intervention, inaction, inadequate facilities or lack of protection – may have been given the impression that they don’t belong. Let’s hope that 2014 brings with it cause for them to change their minds.
The Stand Up! campaign from our friends at BelonGTo is a great initiative to combat homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools and youth services. The campaign encourages friendship and positive understanding of LGBT young people. BeLonG To is working with schools and the education system to raise awareness of LGBT identity and to stop homophobia.
Recent research from DCU found that 79% of teachers were aware of homophobic bullying in their schools. Education is the key to ending this. The LGBT Awareness Week Against Homophobic and Transphobic will run from March 10th -14th.
You can download an activities pack to learn more about how you can participate in the Stand Up! campaign and learn more about being a LGBT young person in Ireland.
The StandUp! campaign is in its fifth year and BelongTo's executive director, David Carroll says: "Homophobic bullying is the most common form of harassment experienced by young people. With young people coming out in greater numbers, and at a younger age than ever before, the Stand Up! campaign is needed more than ever. In 2014, we simply cannot allow any young person to be harassed for who they are, and the success and growth of Stand Up! over the last five years has shown how eager young people across Ireland are to show their support to their LGBT friends."
Check out this video of young people talking about coming out from BelonGTo:
SpunOut.ie, with the support of The Community Foundation for Ireland, are working on a project focused on employability. Our most viewed pages are those about employment and job seeking, we want to make sure that the content we provide is of the very best standard and meets the needs of young people across Ireland. During the week of the 3rd of March, we'll be holding three focus groups for 16-25 year olds on employability. We're looking for participants for the focus groups, if you're around, just get in touch:
All the focus groups are being held in SpunOut.ie HQ and each participant will receive a stipend of €20. We have a maximum capactiy of 8 people per focus group.
If interested in coming along, please just fill out the following form
My MEP – My Voice is a new 32-county EM Ireland initiative. We are looking for young people from across Ireland to come together to create a video, mapping a youth manifesto for the candiates in the European elections, being held on the 23rd of May 2014.
We're looking for 18 to 25 year olds from all across Ireland, who have a passion to create change set out their stall in relation to the European elections. Participants will be brought together for a day of training and filming in either Belfast, Cork, Dublin or Galway in March (your travel costs will be covered). On this first date you will meet some of your co-stars, decide what your video will look like and receive training in appearing on screen before appearing on camera.
Once the video is professionally edited, we are going to take it from the cutting room floor to the very people looking for your vote in the European Elections, the candidates. We will hold four screenings of the video in Belfast, Cork, Dublin and Galway. We are going to invite all the participants, their friends, family and members of the press to these screenings where we will show the finished video to all the European Election candidates. Following the screening, the audience will be given a chance to put their questions directly to the candidates.
Don't forget, if you're not already, get registered to vote! It's easy.