On 7th May, I'm running the Belfast Marathon Relay with the Dreamscheme team, all in aid of young people. But who are the young people that we are supporting at Dreamscheme and how do they benefit from our support?
In the next few weeks, we will be publishing a series of blogs entitled - "In My Shoes."
We want to place you into the lives of our young people with all their struggles and challenges, and show you what Dreamscheme means to them. Let's start by meeting the young people in our Roma youth group.
So, picture this:
You are Diana*, a 12 year old girl from a small village in Romania. Your family has left your home because of a chance at a better life in Northern Ireland. A life free from poverty, where your family can have a second chance, a chance to earn more money and eventually move back home. You are sceptical, and frankly scared to move to a country where you don’t speak the language, you don’t know the people, and where you will be over 2000 miles away from everyone you love.
Not the nicest picture right?
Fast forward a bit and now you are in a school in Belfast. You’re not really sure why but a lot of the kids in your class don’t really want to speak to you. When you try to talk to them, they move away, and when you ask a question because you’re still trying to understand this new language, the kids laugh, the teacher rolls her eyes and you feel embarrassed, ashamed and frankly… worthless.
When you go home you can relax–for about 30 seconds–before your brothers and sisters come in. There's not much space in the house because you share it with another family that moved to Belfast with you–a distant cousin of your mum’s, but frankly, all you care about is that you have to share your room with three other girls who are a lot younger than you. They take your stuff, they talk really loud and you get woken up each morning by them fighting about one thing or another. You try to talk to your mum, but she’s so busy all the time with the new baby that you never really get a chance. Thoughts start to fill your head, thoughts that scare you a little bit, thoughts that you would never say out loud but they never really leave you…
Do they really love me?
Do I even matter?
Would anyone care if I wasn’t here?
This may all sound dramatic, even made up, but over the past year we have work with over 20 Roma young people in the Botanic and Lower Ormeau area, who have all experienced something similar. Many of them live in houses with up to three families under the same roof. They often lack support, attention and the care that they need on a social and educational level in order to grow and thrive and fulfil their incredible potential.
Now, throw yourself back into Diana’s shoes for a second.
On Wednesday, you wake up excited, because you know that it’s the day that Emma comes around to pick you up and bring you to the youth group which you can never fully remember the name of, is it starscheme? Dreamteam? Dreamscheme? You know it’s something weird anyway. You like Emma, she seems genuinely interested in you. She listens to what you have to say, and she doesn’t get frustrated when you struggle to get your words out. She smiles a lot and helps you to get involved with the activities. You have fun there, you get to play games and do workshops and go on trips with other kids your age from Romania, and you feel like you can be yourself for once, and not have to worry about anything else while you’re there.
For once, you feel like you’re the centre of attention.
This is just a small part of the work that Dreamscheme does with young people in the Roma community who have migrated to Belfast. Along with our centre-based youth programme we provide family support in the form of Christmas hampers, support community events, and organise diversionary football activities to help prevent Roma boys getting involved in anti-social behaviour.
Dreamscheme is invaluable to children like Diana, who are in need of a place where they feel that they really, truly matter.
So please, consider supporting our team as we run the Belfast Marathon. To make a donation, visit our Givey Fundraising Page.
*Names have been changed for child protection purposes
Stephen McCombe, Youth Worker @ Dreamscheme