Thursday 20 June 2019

Award-winning students bring peace and understanding to Buttevant

School Advocacy group win first ever Rotary Young Citizen Peacemaker award for peer work

Bill Browne

An initiative undertaken by a group of socially aware teenage students at a north Cork school has won them the first ever Rotary Britain and Ireland Young Citizen Peacemaker Award.

The students, who are Peace Advocates at the Coláiste Mhuire in Buttevant, scooped the prestigious award for their inspirational work in addressing and tackling the difficulties facing their peers at the school. 

Under the initiative the Peace Advocacy Group invited their fellow students to participate in a comprehensive to find out what topics were of particular concern to them, in the process identifying issues where they needed advice and support.

These included: online safety, phone and gaming overuse resulting in sleep deprivation, anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. 

Their next step was to raise the results of the survey with school principal Donal O'Sullivan, who in turn organised workshops with a forensic psychologist who undertook sessions with both students and parents. 

The group is now training all second-year pupils and their teachers, with the aim to have all students in the school trained to be fully qualified Peace Advocates by 2020. They are also organising a 'Pride Day' at the school where pupils can celebrate their diversity and individuality. 

The idea for the initiative came from a ground-breaking project launched by Mallow Rotary in late 2017 aimed at encouraging pupils from local secondary schools to take the lead in addressing the challenges of growing up in an ever evolving modern society. 

The Rotary Peace Advocacy Project involved the students taking part a two-day course on Peace Advocacy at the Mallow College of Further Education, conducted by UK-based Rotarian peace officer Jean Best. 

In conjunction with her husband Keith and the Bradford based Peace Centre, Ms Best developed a comprehensive set of advocacy/conflict resolution strategies aimed at second-level students. 

The idea being that the newly trained young Peace Advocates would undertake their own projects, putting the skills they had learned through their participation on the course in to practise. 

Impressed with work of the Buttevant pupils Mallow Rotary put the group for ward for the Young Citizen Peace Award, which reflects Rotary's focus on the area of 'Peace and Conflict Prevention/Resolution'. 

Five of the Peace Advocates from Coláiste Mhuire,  Aoibhe Jones, David Higgins, Paul O'Keeffe, Eoin O'Brien, Zoe Crowley travelled to the UK last weekend where they were presented with their winning trophy and a cheque for £500 from BBC presenter Ellis Crisell. 

Aoibhe said it was an "honour" for the 157 Peace Advocates at the school to be nominated for the inaugural award. 

"Our Peace Programme, founded by Jean Best, focuses on one's quality of life, in our communities, our homes, our schools and in ourselves. We use the skills of purposeful listening and collaborative conversation to recognise, enable and empower our fellow students and ourselves to believe in the expertise of the young to help each other and resolve conflict," said Aoibhe. 

"We want to sincerely thank Mallow Rotary Club for introducing the Peace Programme to Ireland. We also want to thank Ms Gail Gyves, our coordinating teacher, our Principal Mr Donal O'Sullivan and our Deputy Principal Ms Carol O'Mahony who have supported and encouraged our peace advocacy endeavours from day one. Their support enables us to embed a culture of student voice and student empowerment in our school and this has ensured the Peace Programme has started to flourish." 

The president of Rotary Britain and Ireland, Debbie Hodge, praised the work of the Coláiste Mhuire Peace Advocacy Group. 

"They are a real inspiration to us all with the important work they are carrying out, which they have initiated themselves, to help other students at their school deal with their concerns," she said.