There is something about children singing that easily brings tears to the eyes – it’s something about their innocence and the way the littlest ones in the front row fidget in their school socks and shoes. And all the more so when the children are from a Belfast primary school, and they are singing songs with chorus lines filled with meaning in a post-conflict society like ‘And when we dance, we will dance together’.
The occasion was the Working with Children and Young People event at Belfast’s new MAC Arts Centre, at the end of the first day of the EFC’s 23rd annual conference. Having started the day with an opening plenary that featured a film about the Troubles and presentations by two community activists, Geraldine McAteer and Jackie Redpath, I was only too poignantly aware of how different the lives of earlier generations of Belfast children would have been, experiencing violence, loss and fear on a daily basis. Whatever the contribution foundations have made to working for peace in Northern Ireland, particularly through strengthening communities, this has been work well done. But the task isn’t over, as Redpath stressed in the morning. ‘Now we need to embed peace after 40 years of conflict,’ he said. ‘There is an end in sight but it will take a generation.’ In a real sense, these children are the lucky ones.
The event included entertainment by children and young people, food and wine, and a chance to talk to people from a range of NGOs working with these age groups. Many work with children who are damaged by the aftermath of conflict and deprivation. Talking to a 17-year-old girl from an integrated school and hearing about an extraordinary pilot project using horses to help break through with particularly troubled children were two of the highlights for me.
When you are at a foundation conference, it’s always refreshing and humbling to meet the people who do the real work – and a good reminder of what it’s all about.