Since 1931 our Youth Hostel Association Constitution has had the objective to promote young people's use of youth hostels and their education. This is still what we work for and quite frankly what we love doing. The Good Neighbours Cross-border Project is one that we think is definitely worth showing.
The plan to carry out a youth focused cross-border project with our southern sister organisation An Óige had been in the making for quite a while. In 2017 we finally received the ok from the Irish Department of Foreign Affaird and Trade that they would co-finance this ambitious endeavour along with support from Provident Financial. After lots of planning meetings between Programmes Coordinator Annette and her Irish counterpart Colin, and most importantly with the participating schools the time had finally come. On the 19th September 2018 we welcomed 2 groups of 25 students (14-15 years old) from the North Coast Integrated College (Coleraine, NI) and Gairmscoil Chú Uladh (Bellenamore, ROI) into the halls of the Bushmills International Youth Hostel for three days. With the support of international intern Raluca and the four fantastic teachers we carried out a high-energy team-building programme that had its quiet and reflective moments as well. Amongst other things we reflected on our home communities, the island of Ireland and its story throughout time, and how the environment around us shapes us (very handy to have the gorgeous Giant’s Causeway around the corner). We could see how first friendship across borders were made and it was wonderful to meet so many interesting young people.
To deepen the connections that were made during the first residential we gathered everyone again from the 10-12 October 2018. This time everyone made their way up to the breath-taking Errigal Youth Hostel in Donegal. We followed the tradition of offering outdoor fun activities along with discussion and learning type of activities. While one half of the group explored the Gweedore landscape and abandoned famine villages with Seamus (Walking Donegal) in torrential rain the other half stayed inside and worked with writer Jan Carson on what language can me to our identities. We swapped after that in order to give everyone the full experience. At this point we were happy to see the young people mixing throughout without any hesitations. The goodbye was all the more sad to witness as we don’t know when they will see each other again.
Our shared island is not big when you look on a world map but for these two groups of teenagers it might seem sometimes the other group lived on the moon. To provide them with ample time and fun, creative spaces gives them the opportunity to actually get to know, engage, laugh, talk to and get to know someone from across the border. No longer is the Other interchangeable with the unkown, the stranger or foreign. There are living examples at this point of history in which exchange programmes with young people from conflicted sides can mean a turning point for peace processes: e.g. German – French exchange since 1963. In the light of Brexit and political divisions we believe that this project has made a lasting impact on these young people’s lives and how they will drive future change. Not all of the ones we met will go into politics but a changed mind of a young person can determine how they will vote, how they will talk to their peers, neighbours and children, who they will become friends with or marry, and if they will reach out their hand in the moments when it counts.