Teens from Northern Ireland learn leadership, peacemaking in Salt Lake City
Earlier in the week, American teen Anna Schlehuber, 15, and Hannah Devlin, 15, of Northern Ireland, both stood in polka-dot shorts with one arm around the other as their group helped residents at St. Joseph Villa with crafts. The two met online before Hannah came to stay at Anna's home. They said they have come to appreciate the commonalities they share.
"We have equal rights. We're no different than each other, and religion shouldn't have a part in saying who we are," Hannah said.
Monday evening, after a weekend of river rafting, members of the group and their American host families will meet Norman Houston, director of the Northern Ireland Bureau. Houston has been a diplomat in the United States for Northern Ireland twice in past decade and says he has seen the country change entirely.
The Good Friday Agreement saw a gradual improvement in the political environment. The economy is on the rise, the country has hosted international sporting events, its politicians consult countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan on peacemaking, and Queens University in Belfast is a hub for those studying conflict resolution, Houston said. These improvements are in part because of programs like the Ulster Project that help people overcome their differences while they're young, he said.
"This younger generation has the opportunity to inherit a new, forward-thinking small part of Europe and to see things in a very different light," Houston said.
Those involved in the project see the future of Northern Ireland as being bright and full of cooperation. One effort toward this is bringing many of the religiously segregated schools to the same campus, something that will take place in Omagh in the next few years.
"These kids are growing up in a newer world," Bell said.
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