Scouts from both sides of the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border build bridges and prove that in Scouting, there is no divide.
Set up in 2000 and based in Northern Ireland, Scoutlink is an ongoing mission to help spread peace and unity in Northern Ireland and the Republic through Scouting.
As part of its latest scheme, the Cross-Borders Project, which launched in 2013, Scoutlink focuses on two counties either side of the border: County Tyrone (to the north) and County Monaghan (in the south).
With the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland border running between them, the counties are physically divided by an international border and a long history of political unrest, though Scoutlink aims to bring young people together despite past differences.
Joan Reid, the head of Scoutlink, together with Scout leaders from either side of the border, help to unite young people by hosting activity workshops and residentials with Groups from both counties.
‘Scouts from Tyrone and Monaghan rarely have the opportunity to speak to each other even though they’re next door to each other,’ says Joan. ‘The border is a physical boundary, but it’s also a boundary in people’s minds; they have no understanding or experience of those across the divide.’
Helping young people to think differently is at the forefront of the project, and bringing them together to experience the Scouting adventure is the perfect way to do this. During a recent residential in Monaghan, Scouts enjoyed a day of archery, canoeing and socialising: ‘It was really cool to meet other Scouts and learn about our differences and similarities,’ says Laura, a Scout from 3rd Monaghan. ‘I think it will encourage peace between us.’
Bringing people together
Young people in Northern Ireland still generally go to single-religion schools so there are few opportunities to meet others from different backgrounds within their own countries. This makes the Cross-Borders Project all the more vital.
‘In Northern Ireland, there are only about 5% of schools that are integrated; pretty much every school that young people go to is either Protestant or Catholic,’ says Joan. ‘They are segregated because of religion and their education, and that falls back on the communities. Young people never get the chance to meet others from different communities.’
Scoutlink has overseen a whole spectrum of impactful community projects, including a six-year endeavour in north Belfast, which began in 2003 and brought young people together from a tough area of the city for workshops and activities.
‘It’s important now for young people to make up their own minds and have a chance to meet each other on a neutral basis without the backdrop of the Troubles,’ says Joan. ‘Parents are largely on board with it, and that’s thanks in part to the fact that Scouting is such a trusted organisation.’
Scoutlink is another great example of Scouts making a huge social impact; you can read more about the project on the Scouting magazine website.
Check out the Cross Borders Project video below.