My name is Sarah Wallace I am 24 years old, born and bred in good aul Norn Iron, and I am an intern at PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI). I have been a student of Peace and Conflict Studies in both Scotland and Ireland for 5 years and my specific research area focuses on the role of young people in peacebuilding. This interest inspired my undergraduate dissertation which analysed if and how, the grassroots, including young people, in Northern Ireland were being empowered and to what extent this empowerment contributed to Northern Ireland’s road to sustainable peace. My research found that not only are the grassroots, specifically young people, being empowered in Northern Ireland, but also that it is at this level of society that the desire to building a shared future is most dominant.
One of my most interesting findings highlighted the way in which young people in Northern Ireland are engaging in peace building in creative and innovative ways; two characteristics which are held by numerous academic theories to have tremendous transformative power. The peace building efforts of young people, and others of course, have allowed Northern Ireland to make immense progress. Born in 1991, I am lucky enough to have grown up in a relatively peaceful Northern Ireland. However, at the same time, it is hard to deny that occasionally, there seems to be a danger of lurking back into the past, particularly as mistrust and suspicion between communities continues to exist. Therefore there remains a need for Northern Ireland, specifically young people, to engage in long-term, sustainable peace building.
My postgraduate thesis at Trinity College Dublin is based on this observation, and it analyses the role of young people in peace building generally and also why their involvement is essential in achieving sustainable peace specifically in Northern Ireland. My quest to validate this claim lead me to PPI-NI. PPI-NI embodies the spirit of transformational peace building in its attempt to empower and engage young people; it creatively utilises sport as an attractive peace building tool, whilst at the same time, creates safe spaces for young people to engage in progressive dialogue about a range of issues including identity, community and diversity. I was therefore eager to become involved in the work of PPI-NI and luckily enough for me, the staff at PPI-NI were more than willing to have me on board. From day one, I felt part of the PeacePlayers team, not just because everyone was so friendly but also because they didn’t hold back in putting me to task! On my first day, I met 14 junior girls aged 9-12 in North Belfast, who I now take for an hour of community relations and an hour of basketball as part of the Belfast Interface League (BIL).
At first, I was anxious: would they accept me into their team; would they listen to me; and would they be interested in the community relations aspect of BIL as much as I was? However, my work with the North Belfast junior girls so far, has only confirmed my belief that young people can make a unique and important contribution to peace building. The junior girls showed a friendly awareness of each other and their desire to work in a team was obvious. Their concentration and effort in the community relations discussions and their overall enthusiasm for PPI-NI and what it stands for continues to inspire me. After my first week, I was quite disappointed to learn that I had to wait 2 weeks to work with my group again because of the Halloween break! Thus far, my experience of the North Belfast junior girls and PPI-NI’s twinning programme, has left me feeling very optimistic about the future of Northern Ireland, particularly if it lies in the hands of the young people who are proud to call themselves PeacePlayers.