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Column: Young people do care about more than drinking, smoking & fighting

Today’s youth want to be involved in building Ireland’s future, writes Daithí de Buitléir.

Daithí de Buitléir

WHAT ROLE DO young people play in society? What role should young people play in society? Do young people care about anything other than drinking, smoking and fighting?

These are just a sample of some of the questions which drift in and out of the media discourse year on year. Focus was again given to some of these questions this week on The Frontline.

As a 22 year old from Kilkenny who has recently completed my undergraduate degree I must admit to being worried. I am worried that despite my generation being a frequent topic of conversation amongst the media in the last five years I have failed to notice any considerable progress in the way which young people are getting involved with their communities and their country as a whole.

What many people don’t understand is that your average student does care, that they love to take part in activities and campaigns which are enjoyable and make a real difference to their lives and to the lives of others. So why is this not currently happening on a large-scale?

This is all in an era where the great marketing minds and budgets of our leading phone networks, internet providers and consumer goods are dedicating countless hours and euros attempting to engage potential life-long customers with their brands. They understand the value of youth and they are bending over backwards trying to get us through the door. Is it the case that society cannot compete with these brands for the attention spans of young people? Or is it that no one is really trying?

Unfortunately in spite of the success of organisations such as Wave Change, Young Social Innovators and Spunout.ie, it is the latter.

Engagement is the key. Students are currently not getting involved in large numbers. I refuse to believe this is because they don’t care. It is simply because no-one is telling them that they can get involved.

Disengaged and disillusioned

No one is speaking to young people in our language. Not enough people are showing them how they can make a difference. There is very little support for young people to actively get involved in the areas which interest them. This is where we are going wrong. Young people have become disengaged and disillusioned because they do not know how to get involved.

We need to come up with innovative ways for young people to get involved, we need to create ways where we don’t wait for students to engage with change we need to go out them and show them what they can achieve and get them involved there and then. Everyone can play a role in making this country great, we just need to make sure everyone is supported to create this role for themselves.

Roughly 12 months ago a group of friends and I set up an organisation called RAG which we hoped could break down the barriers to participation for young people. We wanted to get people interested. We wanted to show people that they could make a difference and support them every step of the way. We have grown rapidly – with over 600 members as of last week. We understand this is only 0.4 per cent of third level students in the country but everything starts somewhere and finishes somewhere. Hopefully in a few years our number will be closer to 80 or 90 per cent.

We have lots of young people involved with us doing some great stuff – ranging from volunteering at local homework clubs or fundraising for the unwell, to setting up community initiatives to try engage students from Ballymun area in aspiring to third level educations.

All actions are equally important because we need to build a culture where young people are active doing something. Where everybody in our generation realises that we are the future, and that we go about creating the future we want to see.

Daithí de Buitléir is co-founder of RAG Ireland, a student-based organisation looking to engage third level students and show them that their participation in society can make a difference to the future of Ireland. If you would like to get involved, or have an idea and need support you can contact RAG at ragireland@hotmail.com.

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Daithí de Buitléir

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