The mission statement of the Ulster Project is to help young, Christian-based potential leaders from Northern Ireland and the United States to become peacemakers by providing a safe environment to learn, by practising the skills needed to unite people when differences divide them. The main aim for the Ulster Project is to take teenagers out of a country where they have strong stereotypes forced upon them and show that everyone is alike.
This year, Bethany Hill and Sarah Hatch both participated. Below are some of their recollections:
“Each year, five Ulster Project groups leave from the Belfast area and travel to different places in America for the month of July, in order to try to break down the divide between Catholics and Protestants in NI.
I was selected to go to Mahoning valley in Ohio. The group I went with had six girls, six boys and two councillors, half were Catholic and half were Protestant. We left NI on the 27th of June and wouldn’t be back until the 28th of July.
Everyone is hosted by an American teenager who also takes part in the project so our group changed from 12 to 24 upon arrival and instead of two councillors we had four.
We had a very busy schedule, with usually 2-3 or more activities planned for each day. We did two service projects a week: habitat for humanity, working in soup kitchens, Millcreek children’s centre, Youngstown children’s potential development centre, community gardening, and a centre for mentally challenged adults. Other activities included a pool party, talent show, auction night, day trip to Pittsburgh, baseball game, shopping day, Cedar Point theme park, drive-in movie, overnight at Camp Elkhorn, and the 4th of July parade.
Once a week we had a Time of Discovery looking at the Christian aspects of the project bringing us all-closer as a group. We had an Underground session when we were all asked/answered questions about U.S. and N.I. cultures. On Sundays we attended a church service; two catholic and two protestant.
The friendships I have made in the project have been life-long and the strongest of them was the relationship with my American teenage host and her family. There was designated family time in the schedule and a family weekend where many families went away for the weekend to New York, Niagara Falls and Cleveland. My family took me to Lake Eerie and a water park.
Words can’t describe the challenging, amazing and unforgettable month I had and the lifelong friendships I have made. I would encourage as many people as possible to apply because it’s an opportunity I’m glad I didn’t miss and one I want others to experience too.”
Bethany Hill Year 12
“In October 2011, I decided to apply for the Ulster Project, following my friend recommendation. In January I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had been selected to participate in the project going to Arlington Texas with a group of 16 teenagers and 2 leaders, 8 Catholic and 8 Protestant boys and girls.
We did various activities including, flying, sailing, visiting Dallas, the rodeo as well as learning how to line dance and square dance. We also spent six days doing community service, this varied from helping at a mission in Arlington; an organisation that aims to help homeless people, and later that week we also held a dinner for the homeless people that used the mission.
We also visited the Spirit of Hope Foundation; a centre set up to house children who have been removed from their homes due to violence. We were each given the task of buying clothes and necessary school items for a child. We visited the centre two days later and spent the day getting to know all of the children better.
Throughout the month we attended one Catholic and one Protestant church service as well as 6 ‘time of discoveries’ sessions, each designed to challenge our opinions and beliefs.
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’m glad I didn’t ignore.”
Sarah Hatch Year 12
If you are interested why not visit www.ulsterproject.org. for more information.