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Dublin: 11 °C Thursday 21 March, 2019
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'Irish people have a hunger to make a difference in the world'

28 ‘global citizens’ are being honoured in Dublin today.

13411932_1205471209465009_3145573997542225484_o The 2016 Global Citizen Awards Ceremony Source: Jorge Ruiz Villasante/GCA

IRELAND HAS A strong tradition of people volunteering abroad, something that stretches back decades.

Many changes have happened nationally and internationally in the 53 years that EIL Intercultural Learning has been in operation, but its goal has remained the same.

The non-profit organisation based in Cork aims to bring different cultures together through various volunteering and study abroad programmes.

In 2016, EIL teamed up with similar organisations and charities, such as UCD Volunteers Overseas, Suas, Development Perspectives and Serve, to develop the Global Citizen Award (GCA).

The GCA aims to recognise the work done by volunteers abroad and also encourages them to stay involved with social justice issues once they return to Ireland.

Kevin Hickey, CEO of EIL Ireland, says the awards “build on the very strong tradition of volunteering abroad that has been in Ireland for several generations”.

“In general, Irish people have a hunger to a make a difference in the world.

What we found in EIL was that when people return to Ireland after volunteering abroad, they often come back quite deflated and feel like there is so much more that they should do but are not sure how.

“The GCA helps them to give a voice to the people they met when volunteering abroad.”

_UbxdfRd Kevin Hickey Source: EIL Ireland

By holding events or workshops about their experiences when they return home, volunteers raise awareness in their local community about issues such as poverty, gender-based violence, HIV and climate change.

Hickey says this is an important aspect of the GCA as it “puts the human face on statistics that sometimes we read about in the paper but get immune to”, adding: “It gives people a real opportunity to commit to making a difference.”

Some 28 people will receive awards at the GCA ceremony in Dublin city today – gold, silver and bronze. As well as volunteering abroad, gold winners also commit to volunteering for a minimum of 40 hours once they return to Ireland.

Rise in nationalism 

Hickey says intercultural experiences are more important now than ever given the rise of nationalist views highlighted in the wake of Brexit, Donald Trump’s election in the US and the rise in popularity of Marine Le Pen in France.

“People have been quite shocked I think about Brexit and Trump and what’s currently unfolding in the French presidential election as well … it’s a wake-up call for people.

“It’s so worrying, this move towards nationalism and introspection. That did so much terrible damage to our country in the ’30, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, which led to bleeding emigration.

It’s really worrying that people are not learning from history, we need to look back on history and not repeat the same mistakes.

“People have begun to realise that you just can’t sit back and let things happen … The most effective changes in history happened when individuals made small changes, but together they made a huge difference,” Hickey said.

Social activism and young people 

Ciaran Boyle will be receiving a gold GCA today. He volunteered with Suas Educational Development as a primary school teaching assistant in Noida, near Delhi in India.

Boyle (23) said the GCA helped him to stay focused on social justice issues when he returned to Ireland.

“It’s good to have that kind of tangible aim when you come back. You might come home thinking ‘I’m going to save the world’, but it’s a lot easier said than done.”

Mural Pic for Facebook A Glass Wall event at Trinity College expressing solidarity with refugees Source: Ciaran Boyle

Boyle is involved with the Glass Wall, an initiative by students from Trinity and the National College of Art and Design that focuses on social activism.

“A lot of young Irish people are apathetic when it comes to social justice issues and politics, we’re trying to bridge that gap. We’re trying to be engaging and accessible to young people in Ireland,” Boyle said.

He and other members of the Suas Society at Trinity College also set up a weekly class with students from St Mary’s secondary school in Crumlin to teach them about global development issues such as poverty, global warming and gender equality.

GCA Article Pic 1 Ciaran Source: Ciaran Boyle

Boyle said the classes aim to teach teenagers about important topics they often haven’t come across before.

We believe that these are really important topics that you need to teach in school … There’s somewhat of a blissful ignorance to these kinds of problems in Ireland.

One of the classes focused on child trafficking in southeast Asia. “They were shocked by that, to many of them trafficking was this abstract thing you might see in a movie, but not in real life,” Boyle said.

He added that the classes are as creative as possible to engage students and lead to “open discussion and learning”.

The pupils are taught about how they can make a difference through personal actions such as recycling or raising awareness through talking to others about what they’ve learned.

Later this year, Suas Trinity hopes to extend these classes to other schools.

More information on the Global Citizen Award can be read here, while more details about EIL Ireland can be read here.

Note: Órla Ryan is a volunteer with EIL Ireland

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Órla Ryan

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