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.
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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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Day 3 In Italy: Florence

When you're so used to your hometown, other people's hometown are far more beautiful

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Our final morning in Venice, we boarded a ferry and rode to the other side of Venice where we got on a tour bus and drove for about four hours to Florence.


Your browser does not support the video tag. On the ferry from one side of Venice to the otherBrooke Burney


Upon entering Florence, one of the first things we saw were the Ponte Vecchio. Our hotel was also just adjacent to it so we got to walk across this bridge quite a few times.


Brooke Burney


Soon after we got to Florence, we put our luggage in the hotel and we were off to explore Florence. We went to a small town square and ate and met up at the church that was in that area. After this, we saw Pitti Palace, where there is a secret passageway lining the town where the chief could walk. The street that Pitti Palace is located used to be lined with butcher and leather shops, making the town smell unpleasant. The chief did not like this so he changed these butcher shops into jewelry shops where he was able to purchase whatever jewelry he pleased while it also did not smell up the streets.


Pitti PalaceBrooke Burney


After this, we walked to the Signoria Square where there were statues of some Greek gods and a replica of the statue of David.


Poseidon was under construction :(Brooke Burney


During this part of our tour it began raining, so we spent one or two hours trying to stay dry. Our tour guide had us huddle under a balcony but once that got crowded, we moved to a huge tourist shop where we stayed until it calmed down.


Brooke Burney


After this, we had time to shop and eat but once that leisure time was up, we were guided through the Signoria Square and were given the history of the buildings that stand there and we passed the church in which the Statue of David was originally supposed to reside.


The Statue of David was going to go in that nook on top of the dome, under the golden crossBrooke Burney


At this time it was about 7 PM and we were headed to a cooking school where our entire group prepared dinner for everyone. Some of us were making the appetizer, others making the main course, and rest were making desert. I made pasta, and we made it from scratch which was not as difficult as anticipated and turned out delicious.


Made from scratch pastaBrooke Burney


After dinner we went back to our hotel, however before entering, our tour guide asked if the group wanted gelato. Of course, everyone piped in, except for the four of us girls that went together. Our tour guide told us he would take us to a club if we wanted to and our supervisor was okay with it. So we went to our room, got ready and then we were off to the club that is right around the corner from our hotel. If you want to read about that experience here's the link!

Once we got back, we went to sleep around 3 AM, and we were ready for more exploration tomorrow; bright and early.

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