In a nutshell, what does YI do?
As our tagline says, we seek to “awaken hope, inspire initiative and mobilize youth” especially in areas of urban poverty and social needs. We do that by reaching out to young people who are not connected to any youth clubs or other parts of their local community and getting them involved in creative activities, be it sports, arts or the like. Many of them then get involved in our programs and projects where we foster a positive culture that allows them to flourish. Once they turn 15 they can start volunteering, thus giving back to their community and becoming leaders in their families, work places, communities and churches.
Tell us a bit more about Belfast and Northern Ireland.
The whole region has a long history of “The Troubles” (i.e. religious and paramilitary conflict) and even now that the armed conflict is over, 90% of people still grow up in segregated areas. There are 74 “peace walls” in Belfast alone, separating religious communities. Doing ecumenical and cross-community youth work remains cutting edge in what we do, with some people appreciating us, others looking at us suspiciously.
Why are The Servants of the Word involved in YI and what is their unique contribution?
We are reaching young people in great need and see amazing transformations: this is very rewarding, but it also deeply impacts those who work alongside us. So while this is primarily a youth work and not a Christian community, many of those we have worked with have gone on to discover intentional community within the Sword of the Spirit.
Given our experience and our denominational make-up, we are uniquely placed to work in YI. And I think our life also serves as a prophetic witness.
What are the main challenges and the main joys of your work?
Family and natural community continue to break down, with devastating effects. In the 90s, if a teenage girl became pregnant, there was always a grandparent to help raise her child; now the grandparents are only 31 years old. Mental health issues are on the rise, some putting the number as high as 20% of the population.
Maybe because of this backdrop, personal and social transformation stories are all the more poignant. And it is satisfying to see that we are making a real contribution in Northern Ireland.
What are your plans, hopes and dreams?
Over the years we have learned a lot and have developed a proven youth work methodology, so we feel that our time has come and we have something to offer. This is why we would like to continue to grow and expand across more centers in Northern Ireland. At the same time we want to keep our ethos clear and our charism strong.