Rebecca Richardson (Year 13) pictured with Dungannon Rotary Club President Jim Lamb,
upon winning the Youth Leadership Devepment Competition back in November 2016.
“On the 29th January 2017, I embarked on a 5 day ‘experience of a lifetime’ run by Rotary Ireland along with 23 other young people, most of whom I’d never met before. Arriving at the Jury’s Inn in Belfast on that Sunday was honestly one of the most exciting, but terrifying, moments I’ve ever experienced. Upon meeting several other young people, both from Northern Ireland and the Republic, it became clear to me that these people were very educated on politics and current affairs; topics which I was only beginning to dip my toes into. Despite feeling slightly out of my depth to begin with, I can honestly say that by the end of week, I have never felt more at home. The group that I shared this experience with educated me and made me consider so many different points of view, some of which I would never have discovered on my own. For me, this experience was made truly amazing by the people I shared it with, as I met so many people from all parts of Ireland and was looked after so well by our leaders, Sheila, Monica and William.
Our first stop was on the morning of Monday the 30th of January, at the EU offices in Belfast. Here, Karen Morrison, who works at the offices, gave us an insight into her work and allowed us to ask many relevant questions, such as Brexit and the future of Europe. From here, we proceeded on to Stormont. Despite there being no politicians to address us, the tour conducted by our tour guide James, was highly interesting and really showcased the beautiful parliamentary building of Northern Ireland. From Stormont, our next step was the 2 hour journey from Belfast to Dublin, made even longer by our bus breaking down in centre of the Irish capital! Regardless of the slight setback, we managed to make the rest of the way to our hotel on foot, where we prepared to go out once again.
From our hotel, just off O’Connell Street, we made our way to Mansion House Dublin, where we were fortunate enough to meet Deputy Lord Mayor Rebecca Moynihan. For me, this was a massive highlight of the trip, being shown around the beautiful building and meeting such a strong, female, Irish leader, who shared her views on topics ranging from European politics to the American Presidency. Whilst at Mansion house, we were also given an insightful presentation by two Rotarians, Alan Foy and Niamh Mulholland, Mr Foy having been on our trip 15 years ago. Each presentation really focused on the amazing work of Rotary, which hosts many charity events, supports great causes, and involves young people, with ‘Interact’ being for under 18 year olds and ‘Rotaract’ being for those aged 18-30 looking to be involved with Rotary. We were also introduced to another young man, Eoin, who had been on the programme just last year. After informing us on his own personal experience at the European Parliament, he accompanied us to dinner at TGI Fridays… a great end to such a busy day!
The next morning we had a tour of the gorgeous Trinity College by a third year student, Sam, who told us of the many stories and famous alumni of Ireland’s oldest university. From here, dressed in our formal attire, we made our way to Dublin’s European Offices, where we were informed on European affairs and the running of the European government by Harry O’Connor and Anne McEvoy and were even fortunate enough to be greeted by Margethe Vestager, a Danish European Commissioner, who shared her vast knowledge on Europe. It was here that we were all presented with our certificates for winning the Youth Leadership competition by the District Governor of Rotary Ireland Gerry Kierans and the Rotary Foundation Chairman David Murray.
After a busy two days in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it was time for us to make our way to the airport to depart for Germany. We arrived in Frankfurt late on the Tuesday night, but still managed to make time to prepare for our topics of discussion on Thursday. Early the next morning we left Frankfurt and began the 3 hour journey to Strasbourg, on the French-German border. Arriving in the city, the beauty of the area was evident straight away and the time we got to spend in the city exploring, taking photos and trying new foods are my most prominent memories from the trip. Despite the cold temperatures and temporary loss of feeling in my toes, the tour we received from a local man was entertaining, intriguing and definitely worth braving the elements for! That night, in our groups, we worked extremely hard, putting the final touches to our debates and answering questions from the rest of the group.
After the late night of studying and the early rise for parliament the next day, it’s safe to say the group was extremely tired, yet extremely prepared for a day of discussion ahead. We arrived at the European Parliament and were introduced by some of the staff who worked there, giving us a run down for the Euroscola event. Immediately, the Irish delegation began integrating with other young people from different countries across Europe, getting to know one another and discovering different cultural traits. After a video conference with French MEP Edouard Martin, each delegation had the opportunity to present itself to the hemisphere, offering culturally rich and entertaining presentations. Then we got into groups based on the topics we were assigned, which, for me, was one of the most educational parts of the trip, as I not only learned from the rest of the Irish group, but I also learned a range of knowledge from young people from all over Europe… at one stage attempting to speak with the Spaniards in their native tongue! The day was topped off by discovering that all six possible spokespersons were filled by the Irish delegation, the only downside being that the rest of the Irish were avoided by the speaker when questions were opened to the floor. The day at the European Parliament in Strasbourg was truly amazing and I have never been so proud to be a part of such a hard-working and diligent group.
Our last meal together rounded off our trip beautifully, sending us home with amazing memories and even more amazing friends. I cannot thank Rotary Ireland enough, including my local Rotary Club of Dungannon, as they have supported me every step of the way and believed in me even when I doubted myself. This truly was ‘the opportunity of a lifetime’ that shaped me greatly and one that I will look back on with such pride in years to come.”