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Opinion: We wanted to make a difference as young people – we focused on Irish Sign Language

We wanted to raise awareness for deaf people in our community and petition to make Irish Sign Language the third official language of Ireland.

Alan Coffey

MY NAME IS Alan Coffey. I attend Ballincollig Community School, Co Cork and I am about to complete Transition Year.

One of the TY modules I selected was YSI, which stands for Young Social Innovators. It was set up in 2001 by Stanislaus Kennedy and Rachel Collier. YSI provides programmes for us young people to make a difference in the world through providing us with the skills and know-how to examine social problems and bring about the changes we want to see.

For the YSI project you pick a social topic that you believe needs change for the better, or a topic that you feel you could improve in your community. When I heard about YSI I knew it was for me. I love getting involved in things like YSI just to show that not only Ministers and TDs can make a change in our community, but young people can too.

Project Rita

We named our project ‘Project Rita’. Shane, who is part of our group, suggested the idea. Shane’s mother Rita is profoundly deaf and can only communicate by means of sign language, so we wanted to raise awareness for deaf people in our community and petition to make Irish Sign Language the third official language of Ireland.

As a close friend of Shane, I have said time and time again how much I would love to communicate with Rita. I thought to myself: ‘I have been coming into her house since I was 13 years old and, apart from what Shane has told her, she knows nothing about me’.

This was my chance to be able to communicate with Rita. After four years I could finally learn sign language and be able to talk to Rita and gradually it happened. My sign language vocabulary improved and I started getting more words and phrases that I could use. I was delighted to see how impressed she was.

We are all very passionate about Project Rita

Our group is made up of nine members, seven boys and two girls along with our teacher and YSI coordinator Ms Whelan. We are all very passionate about Project Rita and its success. It is safe to say that we were never short of things to do. If something didn’t meet the standards that we wanted our project to be at then it would be scrapped and replaced by something better.

Everyone involved in YSI is invited to one of the regional SpeakOuts that take place in March, where you present your innovative project in just two minutes using props to three judges. We spent weeks preparing our presentation and in the end it paid off because we are now through to the YSI final showcase in Dublin.

In February, Project Rita was selected to for the YSI den. Like the Dragons’ Den you pitch your idea and request money to pay for something you believe could benefit people using your project idea. Shane and I were sent to the Den to try and get this money. Our pitch went very well. Not only did we receive the full amount of money that we requested but we also received a Vodafone mentor to help us launch our project online. I was so happy for all the project members to see that our work was finally starting to pay off.

It was a real team effort

Using the money from the Den we set up sign language classes to teach the local businesses of Ballincollig basic sign language. This was a huge success for the project and we were delighted to see so many people getting involved. We also ordered customised wrist bands that we are selling in the school and community to raise money for the Cork Deaf Association.

We set up both paper and online petitions to make ISL the third official language and created a Twitter page @projectritabcs to raise awareness on our project. We organised a silent soccer match which took place in the form of a students v teachers match to show how deaf people play soccer. We also had a guest speaker from the Cork Deaf Association

We are absolutely passionate about project Rita. It was a real team effort. We have learned so many new skills from this project including business skills, computer skills, communication skills and the value of team work. I would recommend YSI to anyone that has the opportunity to do it.

The number of students doing YSI across the country is rapidly growing and there is expected to be around 5,000 young people at the showcase on Wednesday the 7 May. I am proud to say that I took part in YSI but, more importantly, I took part in making a difference in my community.

The 13th Annual Showcase of Young Social Innovators, supported by the Vodafone Ireland Foundation, takes place at the Citywest Convention Centre next Wednesday 7 May 2014. More info at: youngsocialinnovators.org

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Alan Coffey

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