How I made friends by joining a youth group set up to tackle hate crime

By Nengi Benstowe

I had no clue there were  any kind of career  opportunities in the  area of  youth work until  I got a random WhatsApp message request asking for  young people to come together to tackle online hate speech.

I had no job back then and a lot of free time, so I thought I’d go to see what the  event involved. My first impression was good.  The group was different to anything I’d been to before. I laughed a bit and I began to make new friends with people of different nationalities.

It was my first time at a gathering of young people that had nothing to do with religion.

I was drawn in by the idea of doing something a little unusual and of stepping out of my comfort zone, so I plucked up my courage and asked if I could join.

The leader accepted me and she told me about a similar event the following day “Sure I’ll come”, I laughed. I attended my second youth event, which was called Young Voices of Ireland the next day. It was another all-day event, and it was much bigger than the one I’d been to the previous day.

Oh, dear! I had so much fun with Young Voices. They were focused on making the voices of young people heard in the European Policy-shaping process. Everyone’s voice and opinion were received and respected. In the end, I asked to join that group too.

Both Young Voices and No Hate Speech are groups organised through the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI).  I enjoyed myself there so much that I took part in a one-week Youth Exchange program in Lebanon.  Then I was chosen to speak at an event called the Interaction Council, where young people got to talk with former world leaders, including the likes of Bertie Ahern.

Eventually I was chosen as a delegate to represent young people in Ireland at EU Youth Conferences in Estonia in 2017 and in Bulgaria in 2018. I got a job working with JIGSAW through NYCI too. One of the NYCI co-ordinators emailed to ask if I’d be interested in working with JIGSAW after she heard me talking about my passion for mental health.

I did apply. I made it through the interview and I was delighted when I heard that I’d been accepted. because I knew I would  gain  so much through  working with JIGSAW. I have since attended events and presented talks about how we can all do a few important things to support our own mental health.

I have learnt that giving is a great way for everyone to  improve their  mental wellbeing. Giving doesn’t have to be monetary, so you don’t have to be wealthy in order to make a contribution. Giving up some of your free time by doing voluntary work can do a great deal to make you feel better about yourself.

Have you ever given a loved one a gift that meant a lot to them?

Do you remember their joyful reaction and how that made you feel?

That is the kind of warm and satisfying feeling that people get from volunteering.   People get very real rewards and benefits when they  give  up some free time to help others.  The practice of giving does not just open physical doors and opportunities; it also opens a fountain of joy within you.

There are so many amazing organisations that are looking for volunteers. The Volunteer Ireland website  will help you to find a role that you’re interested in and connect you with organizations near you that need help.

So don’t  just take my word for it  – why not try it and see for yourself?

Nengi Benstowe

Nengi still  volunteers with the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI).

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