A two week cross-community cross-cultural project bringing 28 teenagers from Banbridge and Delaware in the USA together is underway with old friendships being strengthened and new friendships begun.
In July 2017, under the auspices of Ulster Project Delaware (UPD), 18 teenagers along with four leaders from Banbridge spent a month in Wilmington, Delaware, living with host families.
They experienced fantastic hospitality, visited cities including Washington, New York and Philadelphia, participated in team building activities like canoeing on the Brandyvine River, climbing and hiking at Terrapin Adventures, and gardening and painting peace rocks at Hope Garden. They attended a variety of ecumenical church services, worked on charitable projects, and spent time together discussing their differences and similarities.
The Banbridge teenagers gained so much from this experience and formed such strong bonds with the Americans that they and their parents came together in an endeavour to further the aims of UPD by reuniting the teenagers again in a strife-free atmosphere that emphasises acceptance of everyone, regardless of creed. This led to Ulster Project Delaware/Banbridge 2018.
The origins of UPD date back 42 years, when a group of Americans established a project to allow teenagers from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds to leave Northern Ireland’s Troubles and entrenched opinions behind and get to know each other in a neutral, safe environment.
More than four decades on, it is a testament to UPD and projects like it that Northern Ireland is not only enjoying peace and normality, but these American parents feel confident and safe in sending their children to stay and experience life here.
A total of 11 young people arrived in Banbridge from the US on Friday, July 6, and are spending two weeks living with families and enjoying activities including a day trips to Belfast, Tayto Park and the north coast and an overnight stay at Greenhill YMCA.
They attended family church services in Banbridge Methodist Church (July 8) and St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church (July 15). There are lots of social activities including a welcome breakfast in Bannside Presbyterian Church and a barbecue in Tollymore Forest.
On Wednesday, July 11 they attended a Civic Reception hosted by Deputy Lord Mayor, Cllr Paul Duffy along with Cllr Seamus Doyle at Banbridge Civic Centre, before a historical walking tour of the town. The visiting teenagers will also spend quality time with their host family on July 12, 13 and 14.
Organising the programme has brought not only the Banbridge teenagers closer together, but also their wider families. Planning meetings began in January and the parents organised a range of fundraising events including a fireside quiz, a table quiz in Banbridge Golf Club, a coffee morning in the Old Town Hall and a collection at ASDA supermarket.
The programme also received generous funding from the local churches whose young people are all benefiting from the experience, and has been supported by local business including Rosehip (bread and cakes); Elliott’s Butcher’s (sausages for the welcome breakfast) and Tesco (£50 voucher).
James Whan, one of the Banbridge teenagers, is enjoying having his American friend Aidan Higley to stay, and the opportunity to return the hospitality shown to James last year by his American hosts.
“UPD 2017 was the best experience of my life so far, and it is brilliant to have our friends from Delaware here this summer and to give them a taste of life in Northern Ireland,” James said.
The other Banbridge teenagers involved in UPD Banbridge 2018 are: Eoin Doyle, Katie Lockhart, Jordan Kelsey, Emilia Moore, Lucy McQuaid, Eimear McMullan, Darragh Moan, Ellie-May Purdy, Lauryn Smyth, Claire O’Keefe, Catherine McElvogue, Sarah McElvogue, Sophie Macfarlane, Nadia Ewart, Rose Grey and William White.