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.
Louise Johnston is 20 years old and from Cavan. In 2010 she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and her world fell apart. She credits Barretstown camp in Co Kildare with helping her piece things back together. For her 21st birthday she's raising money for Barretstown to allow other young people with serious illnesses to have the same positive experience she has had.
Imagine a young person has just been diagnosed with a serious illness. They are faced with the unknown with hospital appointments and medication becoming part of everyday life. Now imagine a magical place where they can get a break as a family, a break they may not have had for many months even years. This place is called Barretstown.
On the 15th January 2010, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Following a successful surgery, the tumour was removed and I returned home. I underwent intensive physiotherapy over the next few months to improve my balance. It was not until I got the diagnosis that I became aware of Barretstown.
Situated in Co. Kildare, Barretstown is a specially-designed activity camp for young people and their families who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses. Through therapeutic recreation, Barretstown provides a safe and fun environment for young people, allowing them to regain a sense of their childhood, a time that many will have missed out on.
Barretstown came at a time in my life when my self-confidence was extremely low. It was the ‘pick-me-up’ that I needed, and it also gave me the opportunity to meet others who have been through similar circumstances. Barretstown provides the service free of charge to everyone that attends camp but it must raise €4.5 million each year to be able to do so.
Not long ago, I began to think about my upcoming 21st birthday in September, and I decided that I would hold a fundraising 21st party. I wanted to give something back and make even a small difference to a place that helped me greatly in my recovery. And so, my 21st wish came to life – to raise as much money as possible in the hope that more young people who are diagnosed with a serious illness may experience the magic of Barretstown.
Louise with Home and Away star, Steve Peacocke
The support I have received is incredible, beyond anything that I could have imagined. Home and Away star, Steve Peacocke, and Cavan sensations ‘The Strypes’ have even supported the fundraiser. On the night of the 6th September, the party will take place and Local Cavan band ‘The Highstool Prophets’ will provide entertainment, while 6 male volunteers will be getting waxed. People have also offered to hold their own events in the run up to my 21st.
So far, I have raised €5,000 and this continues to grow. The generosity of people has been incredible. Barretstown is a place which I hold in very high regard and I believe that it provides a life-changing experience for anyone that enters the gates. So, I urge you all to help in making my 21st wish come true by sharing the link to my online fundraising page on social media: A donation of €2 can also be made by texting ‘SMILE’ to 50300.
You can follow the progress of the fundraising on Facebook or Twitter by searching #smileitforward
What do you get when you put a group of young enthusiastic women into a room who aren't afraid to use the “F Word” freely? - no, not a group of ill mannered females, but a room full of voiced opinions and willingness to make a positive change in their fields of work and areas of interests. And the F word? - feminism. The aim of the intense two day workshop was to equip us with the personal and social skills needed to create a 'ripple effect' in our areas of interest, to get people talking and pick up some nuggets of wisdom along the way.
From debating with politicians, to watching Una Mullally struggle to choose her favorite Nirvana song, practicing mindfulness and running around Temple Bar encouraging people to burst balloons for the sake of artivism and mental health awareness – I've had an incredible two days alongside a group of inspiring young women whom I now have the pleasure of calling friends.
We all arrived at the academy with the same aims – to create, learn and make positive changes, but what we left with was more than any of us could have anticipated. We were treated to presentations and interactive workshops from guest speakers from all walks of life – journalists, mental health activists and politicians to name just a few.
Girl power at it's finest, perhaps with even more energy than the Spice Girls themselves. To have Una Mullally share career advice and her unique opinions on gender inequality was eye-opening, but of course telling a group of young feminists that they “Should be ANGRY” and teaching them to deal with criticism is like preparing them for a battle – Mullally almost spearheading our campaign for positive action, simultaneously creating a danger zone for those who would argue gender inequality isn't “important” in our modern day society. Una's presentation ignited a spark in all of us – a resistance to change for the sake of societal acceptance, and the courage to try, to fail, and to try harder – ultimately, this set us up for all that was to come during our remaining time at the academy.
We also met Donal Scanlan from St John of God's hospital who taught us the importance of mindfulness in our everyday lives and began to solidify our new found friendships through interactive discussions and partner work. He used audio visual representations of his main message – mental health matters. He later took a selfie Ellen DeGeneres would have been proud of.
Later in the day we met Aideen Carberry from the Labour party who encouraged us to use our voices, especially in the workplace, offering words of wisdom : “Don't be someone's doormat just because someone's paying you”. Following this Órla Ryan from thejournal.ie hosted an eye opening interactive political debate with Eilish Ryan, Rebecca Moynihan, Christabelle Feeney and Regina Doherty. Topics included gender quotas and inequality in politics, youth unemployment and soon descended into a fiery mental health debate. I can safely say we used our new found wisdom from previous guest speakers to full effect, “be angry about the world you live in, and angry enough to change it”. Aisling Twomey from Pavee Point used personal career experiences to highlight the need for social change, and also demonstrated her unique approach to criticism. “Even Jesus couldn't convert the world, and you're not him”
We were given the tools to make informed decisions and encouraged to shape our opinions according to our own beliefs and outlooks, all with a sense of courage and self-importance. We rounded off our first day together in the IFI, watching a series of short films which were thought provoking in nature and experimental. We later reflected on our first day together over dinner discussing everything from our college courses to future aspirations, and of course, all we had learned from day one – a wonderful ending to an inspiring first day.
Day two was full of surprises thanks to Niamh Heery and her presentation on artivism. She highlighted the importance of artivism and demonstrated how easy it can be to create a ripple effect in our communities and beyond. She used a series of videos and stories of other artivists who create visual talking points based on current affairs and wider societal issues, without the use of words.
Before we knew it, we were plotting and planning our own temporary art installations across Dublin City, addressing women's rights, women's health, mental health awareness and inequality – equipped with balloons and arts and craft materials, we set to work before creating a ripple effect on the streets of Dublin. We aimed to get people talking, to have a lasting impact whilst getting our messages across – taking action, rather than just talking about such issues highlighted the need for social change, whilst giving us lasting motivation to take matters into our own hands. It was refreshing to see the public get involved (including tourists!) - all of whom left with a smile.
Later in the afternoon we met Patricia Kennedy, an anti bullying campaigner from Sticks and Stones Ireland - and before we knew it, we were learning about the importance of non verbal communication through a series of drama workshops. Following this we were involved with a walking debate with two members of the Y! Factor (an initiative of the National Women's Council of Ireland) – we were encouraged to be opinionated but also equipped with the tools to develop our personal outlooks and perceptions. This interactive allowed us to discuss a range of issues facing feminists and activists today, cultural identities and stereotypes, and the place of women in Irish society.
The day came to a close following the presentation of certificates and series of photographs together. Thank you to all who made the Academy so memorable, for offering their time and wisdom – and to John and the Spun Out team for their hard work and dedication in organising the the two day event.
Walking into the SpunOut.ie HQ for the first time was a little overwhelming and I was a bit apprehensive of what would be facing me during the two day ‘Women’s Academy’ – a room full of girls all fighting for their voice to be heard over the rest? Yes, but surprisingly not in the way you would expect! What I met instead was a group of extraordinary, like-minded young women who were all passionate, motivated and determined to speak up and make a difference in this world; for women’s rights, mental health, LGBT and lots more.
One of the main objectives of the Academy was to learn more about activism and how to go about personal and social change so the days were organised to allow us hear from lots of influential people in society today. The first of these talks was with Una Mullally; a journalist and regular columnist for The Irish Times who got the day off to a start by addressing the role young women play in society and some of the challenges she has experienced with this. Within minutes, Una had captured the attention of the room and it wasn’t long until everyone was hanging on her every word.
We were also lucky enough to have Donal Scanlon from St. John of God Hospital teach us basic mental health awareness through the Suicide or Survive: Wellness Programme. During this he explained how we should look after our “mental WEALTH” and some of the tools we can use to do this. We were able to further improve these tools during an innovative drama workshop led by Patricia Kennedy (founder of the anti-bullying programme ‘Sticks and Stones’) which used drama skills to allow us to confidently express our identities and opinions.
Topics like politics and particularly women in politics were also covered through a motivational talk from Aideen Carberry, member of the Labour Party, as well as during a ‘Political Panel’ featuring four successful, female public representatives – Rebecca Moynihan (Labour Party), Regina Doherty (Fine Gael), Christabelle Feeney (Fianna Fáil) and Eilis Ryan (Independent) where questions were raised about the inequality of women in politics, the impact of a ‘Gender Quota’, youth unemployment and the increasing risk (and decreasing services) for people living with mental health difficulties – it was certainly a very interesting discussion, to say the least! Other issues broached over the two days included the importance of feminism, voiced in particular by women from the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the ‘Y-Project’, and also the importance of communications led by Aisling Twomey (information co-ordinator for Pavee Point).
But the Academy wasn’t just about talks and debates! On our first evening we were treated to a trip to the Irish Film Institute where we got to watch ‘Cinematic Voices’; a series of short films promoting branches of Feminism and we were also introduced to ‘Artivism’ by Niamh Heery, which allowed us to create temporary works of art that we later displayed in Dublin City Centre in order to inspire people to take a moment to make a change. For instance, one of our groups passed around balloons filled with positive affirmations to promote positive mental wellbeing, another displayed newspaper articles regarding Women’s Rights and others exhibited artwork to approach the subject of women’s abortion rights. In my opinion, this was one of the most exhilarating and eye-opening parts of the Academy, because we learned first-hand how much of an impact we can actually make through such a small action!
It would be physically impossible to express how much I value and appreciate the time I spent at SpunOut for the Women’s Academy, not only because of how much I learned but because of the people I met through it; I can truly say I was inspired by each and every woman in that room, by their outright honesty about personal experiences and complete determination to ensure changes are brought about before anyone else has to encounter what they did. One thing’s for sure, they’ve already inspired me to become a better person and I’m convinced our generation is in good hands.
I’ll leave you with five key expressions which I feel illustrates the message we learned during our time at the Academy, and you never know, you might feel just as empowered as we did when we heard them:
So a huge thank you to John, Avril and everyone at SpunOut for making the Women’s Academy everything it was, it was definitely an experience we’ll never forget – and we’ll never want to either.
You can follow Aoife’s journey through her lifestyle blog which you can find at aoifebelle.wordpress.com.
Art and activism (artivism) were a key feature of the second day of SpunOut's Women's Academy.
How do you get a campaign going that draws attention, expresses your voice, and gets people thinking? Niamh Heery demonstrated to the room that art is the outlet. One of the benefits of using art to draw attention to something meaningful, as Heery said, is that it includes others; it enables a cross over of the threshold by thinking about it differently, and it can start the conversation. Starting the conversation is an important piece in getting people thinking.
So the group set to work, dividing into three groups, to create art that meant something to them: mental health, reproductive rights, and the representation of women in media. But an essential part of using art to express an opinion is to share it, and so they did.
From Temple Bar to Grafton Street, the three groups shared their artwork to invoke conversation. They asked people to participate, to share their opinions, and to listen to their own. Many people walked past, not all uncomfortable, some just busy during the workday. But many were intrigued by the art, curious by the message, and stopped to see what was going on. They exchanged ideas and expressed the matters that were most important to them.
When the groups returned they were empowered and ready to learn from the next speaker, who was Patricia Kennedy. Kennedy talked about pushing the boundaries, and she encouraged the academy to push their own by standing up in front of each other and partaking in drama. Some were in their element, and some were uncomfortable, but they all participated, stepping out of their comfort zones.
This was part of Kennedy’s lesson: pushing past your comfort zone is necessary to make change.
Kennedy urged: “Don’t take the slammed door as an answer, you have to push back.” It’s a piece of advice that all could benefit from.
“Anyone in this room can have a good idea...but who is going to do it?” This is the question posed by Una Mullally as she sits in front of the room. The room Mullally is addressing is a group of young women who chose to be a part of the SpunOut academy because they want change; change for how women are represented and how we see ourselves. Basically, it’s a room to be reckoned with.
Mullally’s advice is to have a plan; dreaming is one thing but doing is another. There are stepping stones that are necessary to get where we want to go, and we should not turn up our nose to them. This requires persistence and assertiveness. Sharing a piece of advice she learned from a friend: she challenged the group: “If you want to change something you might just have to do it yourself. You should be angry: about the world we live in and want to change it."
As Mullally said: it’s amazing and terrifying to be a woman. It’s amazing because we are living through a new wave of feminism. What’s terrifying about it? The ‘boys will be boys’ mentality. We live in a patriarchal society, and yes there has been change, there has been momentum, but thousands of years of being the inferior sex, it isn’t been enough. Mullally urged:‘don’t put up with any sexism ever - challenge it call it out’.
If we want change, we need to address it, and we need to recognize that we are all guilty of some form of it at some time, men and women. This is better for change. Mullally related that in her life she often felt like an outsider, for various reasons, but she learned as an outsider: be yourself, "the point of you is being you" nobody has your perspective, or your ideas, nobody can do what you can do and that is really exciting. She left everyone in the room feeling inspired.
Check out the interview with Una Mullally below by SpunOut volunteer Kelly
The day continued with an instructional and moving speech on mental health awareness form Donal Scanlan. Scanlan gave advice on managing stress and taking care of yourself. An eye opening piece of advice was: ‘if it’s to be, it’s up to me.’ Scanlan talked about how in some situations we can take charge of our mental health by changing the way we think. Mental health awareness is a pressing issue that the group later brought up to the political panel: the need for more awareness, more facilities, more funding. As Scanlan said in relation to mental health, we have to think: ‘not only yes we can… but yes we have to - for change’
Addressing how we think is an important dynamic of this academy, and it is addressed again in Aisling Twomey’s motivating presentation. Twomey opened with a question: you are on a train...who would you rather sit next to? soldier, priest, criminal, doctor, artist, or married couple. The group shared their ideas, then Twomey went on to show a picture and an explanation of each one of those people. None of which were what anyone expected when they chose who they would sit next to. The lesson was this: perceptions are based not on just what we’re told, but what we think ourselves.
Twomey explained: "everytime we communicate something, there is going to be gaps" . People never view something the same way. Her advice is to always ask questions, to educate yourself.
Twomey’s advice for becoming active and getting involved in a campaign are as follows:
To sum up the day I'll finish with a statement from one of the participants themselves. "It takes people who care, and who are passionate about it to make a difference and to change things."