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'We wanted to show them we are people': How a Cork teen group bridged the age divide

They’re taking part in this year’s Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards this month.

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WHEN A GROUP of young teens in Togher in Cork city realised that there was a gap between them and the elderly people in their local area, they decided it was time to do something about it.

Now the members of Togher Youth Development Project are heading to Dublin to present a project on the issue at this year’s Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards.

There, they will join 2000 other teenagers who have used Foróige as a way of giving back to their local community. Foróige is a youth organisation that’s been running in Ireland since 1952 – it works with around 50,000 young people aged 10-18 in its volunteer-led clubs and staff-led youth projects.

Last year, the members of Ballaghaderreen Foróige Club from Roscommon took the top prize at the awards for their project welcoming Syrian teenagers to their area.

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Aoife Foley (16), a member of the Togher group, explained more to TheJournal.ie about their project: ”We are based in Togher and sometimes young people have a bad reputation, which is a stereotype really, and it definitely created a big gap between all the other generations.”

And we’ve seen that just through growing up, especially with the more elderly people we never see eye-to-eye and we have different opinions of each other. And in this day and age we wanted to close that gap and become more one with the community.

Earlier this year, the 13 teenagers in the Togher Foróige group – aged 15 – 17 – all decided this was an issue that they wanted to tackle.

‘They welcomed us with open arms’

“I’ve been in the group for about two and half months now,” said Foley. “The others have been there longer, but I’m quite good friends with one of the other girls who goes there and when I heard they were doing this project I thought: let’s do it.”

The teens meet across from their community centre, which is where they realised that there was a “group of lovely ladies about 60 – 80 years of age who meet up on a Wednesday to play bingo, have cup of tea and a chat”.

The teens got the idea to call into the women, and from there things picked up. “We asked questions and got to know them a bit more,” said Foley. “They welcomed us with open arms.”

They would call over every Wednesday for two hours. Out of their chats came the idea for a cookbook, which is what they will be presenting in Dublin.

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“We went over to the ladies on the Wednesday. Times have changed since they were younger, and they were really interested because we didn’t live through what they did,” said Foley. “So we went over and we literally asked them for their old recipes, their family recipes that they would have used when they were younger. So they went off and did a bit of research and came back with at least 100 recipes.”

One of the members of the group even brought in a cookbook from 1921 that one of her relatives had handwritten. All of the recipes have now been compiled into a cookbook called A Taste From The Past, which the teens will be showing off at the Foróige event in Dublin.

The meetings with the older women showed the teenagers that they could understand each other if they just tried. “We didn’t talk to each other, and breaking it down it’s lack of communication ‘cos they heard of our reputation and we always saw elderly people as kind of a stick-in-the-mud,” said Foley. “Once we got in there we had people who loved drama, who loved sport: we could relate to them on a personal level and it really showed that age is just a number.”

We wanted to really show the ladies that it’s not all of us – Togher does have a bad reputation when it comes to drink and drugs and all that but it doesn’t mean that everyone in the area is bad. We wanted to show them we are people and we love the same things that they love. We are human and just getting that across.

The teens plan to keep up their contact with the women, said Foley. “Just because we have the cookbook down doesn’t mean we aren’t going to see the ladies anymore,” she said. “We grew close to them.”

“It’s not about doing a project and forgetting about it, it’s about continuing it.”

Foley said she didn’t know what to expect when she joined Foróige. “They received me with open arms – since then we’ve done mini companies, running a business and all that, and it’s definitely helped me as a person. My eyes are being opened to the issues and the working world. And you know how hard it can be but also how amazing it can be. It’s all about making the right decisions and doing what’s true to you and that’s they really taught us.”

The Aldi Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards will take place on 21 April at Citywest Hotel and Conference Centre.

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