Where to start? Well, maybe some context. ATD Ireland is part of ATD International. ATD International is present in over 40 countries worldwide working to give voice to those living in deprived areas through action research and projects designed to empower and encourage active participation. ATD Ireland has been fully operational since 2009 working mostly in Dublin’s North Inner City while also running a number of nationwide projects. Within ATD International there is a well-established European youth network comprised of youth groups from various countries including France, Poland, Belgium, Switzerland, and many more. Although ATD Ireland has worked with many young people over the years we had never previously been in a position to formally set up an active youth group.
In early 2017 we got word that there would be an ATD European youth gathering taking place in Wijhe, Netherlands in August. We identified this gathering as a huge opportunity for us to try to invite various young people from our network to travel as a delegation to the Netherlands representing Ireland. Our dream was (pun intended) that our group would travel and bond together through a shared experience and hopefully be exposed to well-established youth groups from other countries and start discussions about what’s possible for youth groups. Ultimately we hoped they would want to form their own group once they returned to Dublin following this experience. This however was in no way guaranteed and something we understood would have to happen organically without influence from the ATD Team.
The European gathering was structured in such as way that each country would facilitate two workshops. This would allow youth groups a chance to gain experiencing facilitating workshops, working as a team all while sharing something cultural from their countries and highlighting the work they do within their own context. For our group we decided to facilitate a workshop on GAA and the important cultural role it plays in Ireland. For our second workshop we decided to create a discussion forum to really encourage people to think about what it means to ‘leave no one behind’.
The gathering was an amazing experience for all involved. We camped out in the Dutch countryside for four days, making amazing connections with people from all over Europe overcoming language and cultural barriers that are so often overstated.
A couple of weeks following our return from the Netherlands we invited our delegation of young people to meet at the office and discuss their experiences. Thankfully the atmosphere in the room that day was fantastic. The craic and whollop talk were still in full flight, two essential elements to any youth group. The dynamic of the group hadn’t changed at all since our adventure and it was fascinating listening to everyone illustrate their experiences and how the four days influenced them in different ways. Towards the end of the meeting we asked the simple question ‘do you want to formally start a youth group?’ Without missing a beat the answer was unanimously yes! The next question was what will we call ourselves? And so in September 2017 the Unity in the Community Youth Group was founded.