The bigger picture
"My name is Conor and I am a Bronze Award holder from Northern Ireland. I come from Ballymurphy, a Nationalist and Republican community in West Belfast.
"The community has lots of problems with violence, graffiti, car crime and drugs and alcohol. The area has seen a major feud recently which has resulted in one man dead, over 30 assaulted and 13 families evicted from their homes. It is the most deprived community in Northern Ireland but a great place to live. We have a great youth club a leisure centre and a local park. The people are great and we look after each other.
"Taking part in the Award was great for me. It was our first opportunity to take part. We had heard of people in some schools taking part but it was never available for us in our school. The idea of being able to meet people from other communities and traditions was important for me. I knew that I needed to better understand the Unionist community and to deal with my own opinions and beliefs. So for me it was about taking part, meeting the Unionist young people and making changes to me and my community.
"I soon realised that there was much learning involved, we had a 30 week training programme looking at political history, sectarianism and how to stop conflict from destroying the group. It was also important that we got something that employers would be able to recognise as a valuable use of our free time, so there were many aspects to the Award that motivated me.
Walking in others' shoes
"I got lots out of my participation. I learned facts and not myths, I learned about being able to put myself in other people’s shoes and about seeing things from other people’s perspectives. Although the community relations element was attractive for me it wasn't only that. There was also a selfish element. I wanted to change my community, get rid of the graffiti, stop the vandalism and get some other young people to take part and stop harming themselves and the area. I wanted more than what was being offered.
"Soon we were changing things, working together in the graveyard. We had over 1500 people working in the cemetery, cleaning graves, cutting back vines and trimming trees. We also worked on the war graves, cleaned the river and painted out graffiti. We also invited families from unionist and loyalist communities to visit their loved one, many feeling safe enough to come for the first time in over 30 years.
Bringing communities together
"Our families and communities seen young people doing positive things and not destroying and vandalising their area. Apart from the physical and environmental benefits there were also many social and political benefits. We had politicians from both communities helping and supporting our work, even visiting us while we working.
"We also had a new way of doing things in the club. The Award gave me a clear and simple way of being successful and securing an achievement. Our project is a community relations contact programme that helps young people take part in developing peace within Northern Ireland.
East meets West
"East meets west was a community relations programme bringing young people from both traditions to learn about each other and to make an impact on peace building within our communities. We had training, events, activities, workshops, environmental work, visits, hosting, residentials and expeditions. It was a great and fun way of learning and developing new skills and knowledge.
"Some of the main outcomes of the project were 1500 hours of work in the city cemetery, 18 people completed their Bronze, 96 took part this year, and four people secured work; it opened new opportunities and changed my life.
A vision for the future
"Personally I gained in confidence and my self esteem has grown. I have volunteered in other projects and am now working part-time in youth work. I am a peer mentor with another community relations programme and am half way through my foundation year at university. Most importantly are the changes within my head. I can see the bigger picture and have a vision for the future
"The bigger picture for me is my own personal vision. I now know where I am going and also have a vision for my own community and country. I have also developed a sense of the needs of other less fortunate people than myself. The future is Gold and international work is my aim. We are presently working on developing a project for Zambia next year which is also my Gold Award year.
"Lastly can I share with you a fundamental success of the Award for me. This is the right to choose which Award I can have. Many of the young people we had on our project chose one Award. The idea that with the contested communities in Northern Ireland that the Award can meet everybody’s needs is a great success and one to be proud of."