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The Hand of Friendship Project

on .

The Hand of Friendship ProjectThe Hand of Friendship Project is a three-year, cross-sectoral, cross-border initiative which provides school pupils with an opportunity to make friendships with children from a different background and culture while helping to instil positive attitudes that will stay with them into adulthood.

The project was launched into schools in counties Armagh, Down, Londonderry /Derry, Tyrone, Monaghan and Louth in September 2010 and will reach more than 1,200 children, 100 teachers and more than 200 parents from both sides of the border over the lifetime of the initiative. It is delivered by Junior Achievement Ireland.

The children, who are in the final two years of primary school, take part in six modules across the full school year which challenge them to question how conflict between communities can arise and be resolved, why symbols and emblems may have different meanings for their neighbours and how sectarian behaviour can have a very negative effect on families and communities.

Colin Ryan, Project Manager for the Hand of Friendship Project, says: “We had an instance when a young pupil said ‘I don’t like Catholics’ but in the course of the following discussion it became apparent they didn’t actually know any Catholics because their school didn’t have any Catholic pupils. The group discussed it further and agreed that it was all right for people to have different beliefs and that they could still form friendships.”

As the academic year progresses, the project looks at the similarities and differences between the two main cultures in Northern Ireland and the children learn the meaning of sectarianism and to recognise that attitudes and actions can impact adversely on their own communities.

Parental involvement is integral to the project and parents are invited to take part in a reconciliation workshop and learn more about the Hand of Friendship Project.

Colin Ryan: “The children are at the perfect age for exploring these difficult topics. They are very open and idealistic and hugely enthusiastic about getting to know each other. It is a wonderful opportunity to influence attitudes before they harden and before children come under peer pressure.”

A Teacher from Dromiskin National School, County Louth, said: “The activities are well thought out and the facilitators are excellent. The children participated enthusiastically; they really seem to have grasped the ideas of the day. The project is so worthwhile because it enables time to be devoted to teasing out the topics – in school the curriculum is overcrowded. The interaction between children from different schools is great to see.”