In My Shoes: Claire

In our last blog post we had a look at the life of a typical young person from the Belvoir/Milltown estate in South Belfast. Today, we’re going to step into the shoes of a young person from Dundonald.

Dundonald is a new area of work for Dreamscheme. For the last year we have been engaging in detached street work on Friday nights, building relationships and organising alternative activities for young people who gather in Moat Park. Some of the main issues among the group include underage alcohol and drug use, as well as anti-social behaviour. The young people often get in trouble with the local police, while one young person was taken to casualty due to drug abuse.

There is a serious need for on-the-street youth work in the area, and that's one of the reasons why we're running the Belfast Marathon this year–to raise funds to continue this vital street outreach. 

But before you do that…

Picture this:

You are Claire, a 16 year old girl from the Lower Newtownards Road in East Belfast. You’re an only child, living with your mum and step dad. You get on with them well, and you like living there. Your mum can be a bit crazy at times, but sure, whose mum isn’t? You love music, and you’re involved in the choir at school. You’d love to be a singer someday, and your music teacher says you have a lot of potential.

You feel happy. Well, relatively happy. At times you feel like there’s something missing.

Your friend from school has invited you to go to Dundonald this Friday to meet some of her friends there. She says they hang out at McDonald’s and have a laugh. So when Friday comes round you leave the house and jump on the bus to Dundonald. It’s a pretty long journey, you definitely didn’t realise how far away it was at the time.

When you get to the McDonald’s, you see your friend outside. She introduces you to some of her friends and they seem nice enough. You can’t help but notice that you’re all standing outside the McDonald’s rather than actually going inside. Your friend explains that it’s because they were kicked out earlier on for being too loud, and on the way out, some of the boys began swearing at the workers, meaning that none of you are allowed in anymore.

Instead, one of the boys invites you all to his house. When you get there, you can hear the music playing from outside. It’s one of your favourite songs (that one by Little Mix!). When you get in you see a lot of beer cans sitting in the living room. You’ve never had a drink before, and you know your mum would go crazy if you had, but she's not here tonight, so you feel like you might as well try one or two drinks.

It's not long you've gone well past 'one or two'. You’re not sure how many you’ve had at this stage, you stopped counting after the fifth one. But you feel amazing–like whatever you’ve been missing has finally been solved. You’re dancing with your friends, singing at the top of your lungs, having the time of your life. The neighbours have complained a few times, and at one point a police officer appeared at the doorr to see what all the noise as about (it was quite fun to have to hide upstairs until they left).

One of the boys pours you another drink, you see that he puts something in it, a little white thing that looks like a tablet. But who cares? He seems nice so you’re sure whatever it is will just make your night better. So, you down the drink, quickly (it looks cooler if you do that).

All of a sudden, you don’t feel so great. Your arms feel heavy, your head is splitting, your feet won’t move the way you want them to. You have a feeling in the pit of your stomach that something isn’t right. That amazing feeling you experienced earlier has gone–you definitely don’t feel amazing anymore.

You go over to your friend who looks worried, she says you look pale and tells you to sit down. Everything feels dark, your eyes keep closing and you’re finding it hard to keep them open. You feel sick, like really sick. The room is going black. You hear them shout “Claire, Claire!” but you can’t answer. You’re scared.

We have met many young people in Moat Park who have experienced something similar to Claire. Groups (sometimes over 100) of young people from inner Belfast, as well as local teenagers, gather in the park during the summer period, where they participate in underage alcohol abuse and causal drug use, and often get in trouble with the local police. It's a dangerous and unhealthy situation, and many young people seemed stuck, unable to say 'No'.

At Dreamscheme we are committed to reaching young people who are stuck in patterns of destructive behaviour. At the moment, the young people gathering at Moat Park are at highest risk in the Castlereagh area. We want to build relationships with them on the street, provide a safe place that they can go to, and organise safe, alternative activities during the summer months.

But we cannot do that without your support. So please, pray for our work in Dundonald, and support us by donating to our Belfast Marathon Relay Fundraiser.