Part of our Celtic visitors’ day was a “Choose Respect” presentation. Choose Respect is a joint project of Turning point, District 200 and Turning Point. The Northwest Herald has the story:
WOODSTOCK – Six students visiting from Belfast were infants in the time of open hostility between religious groups in Northern Ireland.
Yet 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement brought peace to the area, they traveled to the U.S. in search of strategies to move their communities forward and away from the segregation that remains.
The six students toured Woodstock High School and listened to various presentations Wednesday as part of a trip studying conflict resolution.
The students came as part of the Towards A Better Understanding program, an exchange program between the Rotary Club of Belfast and the Rotary Club of Highland Park-Highwood.
The program began in 1992, and the two Rotary clubs alternate in visiting the other’s country every year.
Martha Gray, head of the international committee of the Rotary Club of Highland Park-Highwood, said she sees the program having a “ripple effect” in raising global awareness in the two communities.
“[The students’] awareness of the world is a little greater, and they are more interested in it,” she said. “They realize that they are not living in their bubble and what they do can make a difference.”
The Belfast students arrived April 3 and took part in activities that included interacting with local high schools, speaking with the Anti-Defamation League, and meeting community leaders such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The students return to Northern Ireland on Friday.
One of Wednesday’s presentations came from Choose Respect, a group of 20 students from various high schools that teaches about bullying and teen dating violence. The group presented to the Belfast students using open discussions and a choose-your-own adventure sketch that left 17-year-old Kendal Hinds of Danaghadee, Northern Ireland, speechless, she said.
“It was really hard-hitting of what violence can go on between teenagers,” she said.
For 17-year-old Niall Fitzpatrick, the presentation emphasized the program’s idea of working to resolve conflict from the start.
The Belfast students plan to apply the lessons of the trip toward the tension between religious groups in Northern Ireland.
“The schools in Northern Ireland are majority segregated according to religion,” Fitzpatrick said. “There is only 4 percent of schools in all of Northern Ireland that are integrated between various religions.”
Hinds said she hopes to follow the example of various organizations she met with on the trip and start a group that allows free dialogue. Fitzpatrick, who attends a Catholic school, is now able to say that he has three Protestant friends, he said.
“I think that these programs take an important step to taking people with different religions to combine, interact and get to know one another better,” Fitzpatrick said.
“It helps release stereotypes and prejudices against other religions,” he said. “Helps to see that we are all the same.”