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I have been a part of the YMCA family for around eight years and throughout that time I have had many opportunities and experiences. YMCA Lurgan supported me in gaining my first Youth Work Qualification onto my first International experience, taking part in Leadership training with YMCA Kosovo and England.
I continued my commitment to YMCA Ireland when I was invited to join the Global Justice and International Development Committee, which I am still a proud and active member of today. From representing YMCA Ireland at Brussels on Reflecting on Peace Practices Workshop, World YMCA and the launch of the Roots Peacework Guidebook to leading on an exchange with YMCA Netherlands where I led the Irish group.
This exchange saw people come from YMCA Europe’s Roots for Peace Project, YMCA Scotland, YMCA Ireland, YMCA France, YMCA Netherlands, YMCA Georgia and YMCA Kosovo and the main objective was to discuss and think about commemoration and remembrance, and how to build towards a more peaceful world. Parallel to this journey, I have gained my Professional Youth Work qualification and now work within YMCA.
I have been able to witness firsthand impact toward violence across Europe, and have learned to recognise the significance that reflection and remembrance has on individuals and communities. I have been inspired by strong, courageous leaders and relished to be in the presence of changemakers. Previous to these experiences I had the ability to recognise the marginalised, disadvantaged and vulnerable but what I have been able to develop are fine critical reflective tools to identify how we can all be facilitators of change in issues that impact us locally, nationally, globally through injustice, climate change, poverty and more.
Closer to home, these experiences with YMCA Ireland enlightened me to the reality that we do not live in a ‘peaceful’ society, rather we live in a divided, segregated society that keeps itself safe through sophisticated ways of ‘dodging’ and avoiding the ‘other’. To the outside world, The North of Ireland may look peaceful, unified for the majority. However, simply because we live in a society absent of sectarian violence does not equate to a peaceful society.
I have been very fortunate to experience the variety and wealth of opportunities that YMCA haveto offer. It has opened my world to experience that otherwise would not have been possible to me and opened my eyes to different perspectives that have enabled me to develop personally and professionally. My journey with YM has provided me with the tools to identify this ‘negative peace’ and in turn inspired me to continue peace building work in our society.
I have had the joy of meeting people from all over the world, learning about different cultures and lifestyles, and hearing stories of injustice, peacemaking, leadership and life. From the South of Ireland, to Mexico, Scotland To Kosovo, I have been inspired by the journeys of others and often I am amazed that with all the differences that can often define us, it is the similarities that unite YMCA people. This unity comes from a place of peace, belonging, justice, family, connection and love to name a few.
In my own experience, YMCA has been transformative in my professional career and in my personal life. The YMCA genuinely makes a difference in the lives of those who are involved with the organisation. I am proud to be along for the journey and to continue to support the lives of young people and their families.
Aoileann Conway | YMCA Lurgan
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