Local Exchange Program Fosters Peace in Northern Ireland

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    NEWSLETTERS

    BudKeeganImages.com
    The 2014 UPD group in Love Park in Philadelphia on July 1.

    18 American and 18 Northern Irish teenagers have been charged with pacifying generations of violence, prejudice, and hate. Delaware is the breeding ground for that peace mission.

    A Google search for "The Troubles" results in a multitude of links with information regarding one subject: the political, religious, and economic-related conflicts in Northern Ireland.

    The issues within the country came to a head in 1921 when the Republic of Ireland formed an independent nation and the province of Ulster in the north decided to remain with Britain.

    But the divide affected more than just geography. Since the Republic of Ireland was mainly Catholic and the northern province was mainly Protestant, the new border lines effectively segregated the country over religious beliefs.

    The split created tense interpersonal relations between the Catholics and the Protestants, and evolved into a series of violent interactions between extremist groups known as "The Troubles," which has led to the death of approximately 3,500 individuals since 1969.

    The general perception is that the Troubles ended with paramilitary cease-fires in 1994 and the Belfast Good Friday Agreement of 1998, but religious and social segregation still exists in Northern Ireland.

    Ulster Project Delaware (UPD) aims to end that.

    Founded in 1976, it is the longest, continuously running Ulster Project in the United States. A project of Pacem in Terris (peace on Earth), its goal is to "promote reconciliation between Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants by fostering tolerance, understanding and friendship among future leaders," according to their website.

    Every summer a group of Northern Irish teens and four adult leaders spend the month of July with host families in Wilmington, Delaware. The teens range from 14 to 16-years-old. Half are girls, half are boys.

    One half is Catholic. The other half is Protestant.

    The UPD 2014 group came together Saturday, June 28 when the 18 Northern Irish teens arrived and met their host families. They got off the bus and were greeted by the American teens and their families holding up posters welcoming them to Delaware. They went home to recover from jet lag and the next day they sat down with program leaders to learn what was in store for them over the next four weeks.

    The entire month of July is filled with activities for the teens. They sight see in D.C., New York, and Philadelphia. They have days devoted to service in the community, as well as "Discovery Days," that allow the group to explore the nature of prejudice and ways to defeat it. The teens attends not only a Catholic Mass and a Protestant Service, but also visit a synagogue, a mosque, a Friends meeting house, and the Amish.

    They also get to participate in social events (the meeting on Sunday was followed by a pool party) that help both Northern Irish and American teens “create enduring friendships and mutual understanding.”

    Through their month of adventures, Northern Irish teens learn that there is more to a person than what kind of service they attend. And that is the message they take with them back to Northern Ireland.

    According to the Ulster Project's website, at the end of the 2012 Project over 8,000 youth had participated. None of them have become involved in a paramilitary terrorist group.

    For more information, visit their website.