During the month of August young people and staff from New Lodge Youth Centre co-ordinated and participated in an International Peace Camp as part of Erasmus+ funding. The group organised and planned that they would be joined by five young people and two leaders from four other countries which included Jordan, Palestine, Czech Republic and Lithuania. Just before the camp was due to take place we received word that there was an issue with Palestine groups visas which meant that unfortunately that they were unable to join the camp. On Monday 14th August we gathered at New Lodge Youth Centre to make our way to Castelwellan Forest Park where we would begin the Camp. This was an experience that many of the participants had not encountered before and for some of the participants this was also their first time travelling outside their own countries. The weather stayed true to “good Irish weather” and we encountered heavy rain and strong winds most days and nights but this didn’t stop any of the participants from enjoying the experience and having fun.

Throughout the week the group took part in outdoor activities such as canoeing, bouldering and mountain biking for some of the young people this was their first time taking part in some of these activities which they all got stuck into and enjoyed. As well as the outdoor activities all participants took part in workshops based around peace-building, cultural awareness and self exploration. Each participating country brought with them some of their own experiences, music, food and culture to present to the rest of the group.

As the week went on all of the participants began to build friendships and gained a better understanding of the issues that each country has and how these issues although not exactly the same had similarities between them. On the Friday of the International Peace Camp the group left the campsite to move to the next part of the camp this part of the camp allowed the participants to explore more of the countryside and also hear about the history that surrounds the country visually. We started this part off with a tour of City Hall and a talk with Councillor JJ Magee who explained his role within council and also gave a brief history of the building and Belfast. From this the group had asked for some free time to explore Belfast City Centre.

We began Saturday by having our final walk along the beach at Newcastle evaluated the camp and then made our way back to Belfast to explore some more this time from an open top tour bus where the group discovered more about the city and also left their message of peace on the famous ‘Peacewalls’. That evening we enjoyed our last meal together and also went to watch New Lodge Arts production of ‘Fame’. This was a great way to end the week off and get to relax before making the journey back home. The International Peace Camp was a huge success and we at New Lodge Youth Centre would like to thank everyone who supported and helped us in making this dream project a reality.- Mary, Sinead, Louise. New Lodge Youth Centre is a project of Ashton Community Trust.