Bridging Divides, Developing Leaders, and Changing Perceptions in Antrim

PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) is in the middle of its second year working with children of all ages in the town of Antrim, about 20 minutes outside of Belfast. Last year, Parkhall Integrated College received a grant from the Integrated Education Fund’s PACT (“Promoting a Culture of Trust”) funding scheme and contracted PeacePlayers to help implement a series of programs. Last year, PPI-NI ran five-week twinning programs at both the Secondary and Primary school level in Antrim.

The program was such a success that Parkhall asked PPI-NI to not only to return this year to Antrim to run the same programs, but also to expand its work in length and involve the many youth clubs in the Antrim area in the scheme. Also, PACT took notice of last year’s programming and contributed funding as well to this year’s programs. According to Dermot Fyfe, teacher at Parkhall and coordinator of this year’s PACT grant, there has been little if any cooperation between the various youth clubs in and around Antrim in the last 10-20 years. However, this past fall, PPI-NI delivered its OCN level 1 course “Understanding Diversity Through Sport” to 20 teenagers aged 15-18 from Parkhall Youth Club, Rathenraw Youth Club, and St. Comgall’s Youth Club.  Parkhall’s Junior school became the host for the five-week program which was by no means confined to just the OCN course. Participants took part in basketball drills and skill development sessions, as well as scrimmages and games on mixed teams. It was the first of its kind in Antrim and a similar project with over 50 kids aged 9-12 will be organized later this Spring with the same youth clubs in addition to High Street Youth Club, Stiles Youth Club, and Ballycregagh Youth Club.

In addition to the Youth Club project, PPI-NI coaches coordinated a five-week Twinning program for Year-8 pupils from St. Benedict’s and Parkhall Integrated Junior College during the months of October and November. Over 40 children participated, which involved multiple trips to both schools as a part of the twinning program. But perhaps the biggest part of PeacePlayers’ participation in Antrim this year will be our work with four integrated primary schools (Crumlin, Maine, Rathenraw, and Round Tower).

An overwhelming percentage of Northern Ireland education remains segregated so it’s a great opportunity to work with four primary schools that are as interested in bringing children from different religions and communities together as PPI-NI. This Thursday, PPI-NI will deliver the first of seven Primary School Twinning sessions to the four integrated primary schools in Antrim. Over the course of this program year, PPI-NI will work with close to 200 youth in Antrim; 200 kids with no previous PeacePlayers experience and, for some,  little or no cross-community experience as well.

PeacePlayers is very excited at the prospect or continuing to work in locales outside of Belfast, like Antrim, and thankful for funding from the Integrated Education Fund, as well as being able to work with able and willing partners such as Parkhall Integrated College and Antrim Borgough Council.

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