How The Ulster Project Is Ending Hatred And Violence

How The Ulster Project Is Ending Hatred And Violence

Working to end centuries of hatred and violence in Northern Ireland.

Nothing feels more rewarding than taking time to do what you love, while changing lives in the process. The Ulster Project is an organization many may have briefly (if at all) heard about, but often have no idea what it really is. For me, it's an incredible opportunity that changed not only my own life, but the lives of many teens as well.

Historical Background

The origins of problems in the northern region of Ireland stretch centuries back to 1167, when England first laid roots in the area.

During the 1600s, two bloody religious conflicts known as the Irish Confederate Wars (1641–53) and the Williamite War led by William of Orange (1689–91), both of which resulted in Protestant victories, created a deeper wedge between the two religions that inhabited the island.

After over a century of continued violence and rebellion, the Government of Ireland Act was then passed in May 1921, splitting Ireland into two. This is how Northern Ireland was born.

The Troubles

In the 1970s, violence escalated as many bombings, armed battles, hunger strikes, and attacks ensued from both sides. This time period was known as The Troubles. It was unacceptable to marry or date outside your religion, unsafe to say which side you stood for, unheard of to have friends of the other religion, and it even became risky to state your own profession, as often they held a religious undertone depending what it was.

A Much More Peaceful Era

The light had not been turned out on tensions in the region, which resonate to this day. But as a result of several initiatives, most specifically the 1994 paramilitary ceasefires in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, a much more peaceful era has since emerged.

The Ulster Project and U.S. Efforts for Peace

In 1975, following an exchange program in Connecticut, Reverend Kerry Waterstone, an Anglican priest, worked with church leaders to form a program to work to change the attitudes of teens from Northern Ireland for a more peaceful future between Catholics and Protestants. Thus, The Ulster Project was born.

The Ulster Project and Me

I never knew how much one organization could teach me, until I was involved with this one. As a teen, I was more concerned about matching my toe nail polish to my finger nail polish, or how a boy in school liked my friend rather than me. But when we lined up to meet our host sisters and brothers from Northern Ireland at the airport, that all changed.

There we kids who had seen first hand, the problems between religions in their communities, which are often segregated like many of their schools. Many had rarely spoken to others from the opposing religion, because they hadn't had the chance to until this moment. As an American teenager, it's hard to consider the problems that occur in other countries, or to comprehend issues that teens the same age may be dealing with bigger than our own. I realized just how blessed I was, and just how much we needed to change the state of other countries when, on the fourth of July, one teen spoke to my mom, saying, "This is amazing. Why don't we have one of these?" The moment in shell shocking when you're in it, because I genuinely cannot come to understand why they don't have freedom as we do in the United States - a freedom that I often take for granted.

That group of kids soon became my family. Lives and perspectives were changes, especially my own. I keep in contact with them regularly, and I know I can count on them for anything. But the day they went home, I knew I wanted to be a counselor one day above almost anything else - just once - because I wanted to change the minds and lives of even one kid as my group had done for me.

I've traveled to Northern Ireland and have seen the separation of communities in large areas like Belfast with my own eyes. "If someone approaches you and asks you your religion," my hostess said to me, "say you don't have one. It's safer." While in some families and communities, religion is nothing more than a personal quality, and judgment comes from who you are in your heart, in others, it is a wall of division labeling someone as unequal.

There is something that always brings me back to this organization, and it must for others as well, because it continues annually. It changes people's minds, but more importantly, it gives teenagers a real chance to change themselves to become peacemakers. One teen I am a co-counselor for this summer (and my fellow counselors are easily the most amazing people with the kindest hearts I've ever met as well) said to us, that "pain and listening to the words of judgment will never do anyone any good. Our differences are what make us who we are, and loving each other starts when we begin to see that everyone is a work of art - unique and one-of-a-kind." I couldn't be more thankful, nor agree more with that statement.

Ultimately, The Ulster Project changed my life for the better. Not only did it give me a chance to understand the historical violence and conflict of another country, as well as broaden my horizons further than the Ohio river, but it also gave me a better sense of who I am altogether. I am blessed to have met every person I have through this amazing organization, because from each and every one, I've learned something that has allowed me to see the work of art he or she truly is, and encouraged me to become the kinder person I am today.

Cover Image Credit: Shannon Lindsay

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A Senior's Last Week Of High School

The bittersweet end.

Well, this is it. This is what we've worked so hard the last four years - who am I kidding - basically what seems like our whole lives for. This is the very last week we will set foot as a student in our high school's hallways. As most schools are getting ready to set their seniors free at last, it all begins to set in - the excitement, the anxiousness, and also the sentiment and nostalgia.

For seniors, the years since our first day as a freshman at the bottom of the high school totem pole have seemed endless, but as we look back on these last few weeks, we realize that this year in particular has gone by extraordinarily fast. It was just yesterday that we were sitting in our classrooms for the very first time, going to our 'last first' practice, and getting our first taste of the (very real) "senioritis". With all that's going on in our lives right now, from sports and clubs, finals, and the sought after graduation ceremony, it's hard to really sit down and think about how our lives are all about to become drastically different. For some it's moving out, and for some it's just the thought of not seeing your best friend on the way to fourth period English; either way, the feels are real. We are all in a tug of war with the emotions going on inside of us; everything is changing - we're ready, but we're not.

THE GOOD. Our lives are about to begin! There is a constant whirlwind of excitement. Senior awards, getting out of school early, parties, and of course Graduation. We are about to be thrust into a world of all new things and new people. Calling our own shots and having the freedom we have so desperately desired since the teenage years began is right around the corner. Maybe the best part is being able to use these new things surrounding you to grow and open your mind and even your heart to ideas you never could before. We get the chance to sink or swim, become our own person, and really begin to find ourselves.

Things we don't even know yet are in the works with new people we haven't even met yet. These friendships we find will be the ones to last us a lifetime. The adventures we experience will transform into the advice we tell our own children and will become the old tales we pass down to our grandkids when they come to visit on the weekends. We will probably hate the all night study sessions, the intensity of finals week, and the overpowering stress and panic of school in general, just like we did in high school... But it will all be worth it for the memories we make that will outlive the stress of that paper due in that class you absolutely hate. As we leave high school, remember what all the parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors are telling you - this are the best times of our lives!

THE BAD. The sentimental emotions are setting in. We're crying, siblings are tearing up, and parents are full-out bawling. On that first day, we never expected the school year to speed by the way it did. Suddenly everything is coming to an end. Our favorite teachers aren't going to be down the hall anymore, our best friends probably won't share a class with us, we won't be coming home to eat dinner with our families...

We all said we wanted to get out of this place, we couldn't wait, we were ready to be on our own; we all said we wouldn't be "so emotional" when the time came, but yet here we are, wishing we could play one more football game with our team or taking the time to make sure we remember the class we liked the most or the person that has made us laugh even when we were so stressed we could cry these past few years. Take the time to hug your parents these last few months. Memorize the facial expressions of your little sister or brother. Remember the sound of your dad coming home from work. These little things we take for granted every day will soon just be the things we tell our college roommate when they ask about where we're from. As much as we've wanted to get out of our house and our school, we never thought it would break our heart as much as it did. We are all beginning to realize that everything we have is about to be gone.

Growing up is scary, but it can also be fun. As we take the last few steps in the hallways of our school, take it all in. Remember, it's okay to be happy; it's okay to be totally excited. But also remember it's okay to be sad. It's okay to be sentimental. It's okay to be scared, too. It's okay to feel all these confusing emotions that we are feeling. The best thing about the bittersweet end to our high school years is that we are finally slowing down our busy lives enough to remember the happy memories.

Try not to get annoyed when your mom starts showing your baby pictures to everyone she sees, or when your dad starts getting aggravated when you talk about moving out and into your new dorm. They're coping with the same emotions we are. Walk through the halls remembering the classes you loved and the classes you hated. Think of the all great times that have happened in our high school years and the friends that have been made that will never be forgotten. We all say we hated school, but we really didn't. Everything is about to change; that's a happy thing, and a sad thing. We all just have to embrace it! We're ready, but we're not...

Cover Image Credit: Facebook

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Day Four In Italy: Florence

This is the day we learned the history of everything


Waking up bright and early we first took the tour bus to the country side of Florence where we visited a medieval town full of shops that lined a beautiful countryside.

CountrysideBrooke Burney

We spent about three hours here just looking around, buying things, and taking pictures. Once the three hours were up, we went to a winery where they explained how they made wine with the grapes in their vineyard.

In the vineyardBrooke Burney

After the tour, they fed us lunch with some of their wine. Then, after we ate, we passed through their wine shop and took the bus back to the Piazza della Signoria. On the way back, our tour guide was telling us about Michelangelo and his time creating the Statue of David. We had to stand in a line for about thirty minutes but when our time came, we were thrilled. We entered and saw artwork from many different artists. However, Michelangelo had a hallway of his own that was mostly filled with unfinished sculptures of statues with David being at the very end.

Statue of DavidBrooke Burney

After the tour of the art museum, our tour guide took us to the square where the churches were and gave us a history lesson on them. He gave us a background on the pictures that were painted on the doors and what they represent.

Brooke Burney

After this tour, we went back to our hotel where we were able to go eat dinner. My friends and I went back to the small square we first went to and ate in a small pizza joint.

Italian pizzaBrooke Burney

If you ever go to Europe, keep in mind that they have a hard time splitting orders. As we were sitting at this table, we asked for separate checks but they made us pay separately on a single check, which was kind of funny watching three American girls pick through their euros.

After dinner, we went back to our hotel to pack for the next day. To the train station, then Pompeii!

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