Coffee, Cookies and Cultural Diversity

PPI-NI Office Administrator Laura Agnew shares her first time experience of co-facilitating an Open College Network (OCN) with young people from Lorne YMCA.

PPI-NI staff with a group from Lorne YMCA

PPI-NI staff with a group from Lorne YMCA.

Stephen Covey hit the nail on the head when he said, “strength lies in differences, not similarities.” We don’t always realise it, but everyday we are all immersed in cultural diversity no matter where we go or what we do. Last week, Nasiphi and myself traveled to Larne to deliver PPI-NI’s new Exploring Cultural Diversity OCN course. It was our aim to show the young people that this, almost cliché quote is actually their reality, even in their small town.

It was the first time that the course had ever been delivered since it’s recent development, and the thought of that meant the pressure certainly started to creep up on us as we passed the “Welcome to Larne” road signs. One missed turn and a few minutes of panic later, we arrived at the YMCA building. The friendly faces and cups of coffee instantly put our nerves aside, and set us up for our two-day journey with the group.

Laura's first OCN facilitation

Laura’s first OCN facilitation.

It was going to take a lot of coffee, as the next two days were jam-packed! The group of young people all knew each other so we had no trouble easing them into the course with a PeacePlayers icebreaker. And the fun didn’t stop when the work began – the participants were up for all the activities and group discussions that we threw at them over the course of the two days, no doubt fueled by the coffee and giant Oreo cookies they had for lunch each day! Even the most challenging and controversial sections about diversity saw them air their thoughts, and have heated conversations on the issues that they are faced with every day but either don’t have the confidence or the opportunity to discuss.

And that is what PPI-NI does best. We develop the courses and deliver them where we a safe and comfortable environment is created for our participants to talk about the things that really matter to them. In Northern Ireland the norm is to shy away from actually having these conversations in fear that someone might get upset or angry, or would even spark violence. But we are all faced with these realities every day, and so it is only right that these conversations have a chance of happening.

Participants working together to discuss their experiences of culture diversity in NI

Participants working together to discuss their experiences of culture diversity in Northern Ireland.

The group from Larne YMCA showed great maturity and respect for other cultures and displayed a growing understanding of diversity during their two-day journey through the course. They are a credit to themselves and to the centre. I had a lot of fun helping to facilitate their conversations, debates and learning. No doubt a few of their names will come up in the near future as the movers and shakers of the next generation with the new-found skills, knowledge and confidence that they gained during this course. This is exactly what PPI-NI is trying to achieve, because it is exactly what Northern Ireland needs.

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