#B2B2016: Joe McNeill Blog

"Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people"

The last group work session before we left for SA was facilitated by Waitso and Vicky. I waited around in Hammer YC with Dynsey because we were told to stay out, I tell you I was so glad I hung around. What I witnessed post session as the group came soaring down the stairs was amazing. Analyzing their body language and behavior, I said to myself, 'they are ready'. Dee Mccoubrey came sailing down the stairs like Andrea the Giant, so much drive, motivation and confidence to tackle all these challenges that lie ahead of him and his group mates. The amazing group of 14 young people brought this attitude and belief into every challenge, activity and situation they faced in their team, their personal goals/ challenges and the township of Blanco.

Sharing my first experience in SA with this group of special, special people will be something I will bring to my grave with me. The first day in Blanco township was a two hour period of sheer magic, I couldn't stopped smiling. Trying to take it all in as well as watching the group smash a vast majority of the goals they set themselves the night before was extremely overwhelming. Through out our journey I used the word proud so much, I never planned to, but I had to. Everyday these young people shocked me: I seen, listened and felt things I never knew existed within these individuals, this group. Big Ethan set the tone for me, for the group 30 seconds after we arrived in Blanco, he was dancing with kids, he was smiling, he was happy and of course the group adhered to the trend they set 'one in, we all in'.

"If you always do what you have always done, you'll always get what you have always got"

Listening to stories from past B2B groups, the group really wanted the programme, the experience to have the same impact on them as past group members. From the outset we challenged the group the write their own story. After the first day in Blanco these 14 young people had chapter 1 already wrote. Caiti Quinn one of the most quietest girls I know, came out of her shell, let Blanco meet the real Caiti, also let our group into this funny, quirky and amazing personality which she had been hiding from us. Our group commended Caiti every night in the debrief sessions and respected how big this goal was Caiti has achieved. She approached this journey with so much motivation and drive, it is reflective of the positive outcomes she is bringing home with her. Kieran Hamilton was another group member who entered this journey with an open and different mindset. Watching Kieron with kids in township, supporting group members emotionally in debrief and on the last night in Blanco letting the group in to the real Hammy, shocked not only me but the whole group. Kieron's journey is only beginning, if he brings the attitude he showed me into his daily life in Belfast I believe he is well equipped to deal with any situation which faces him.

Leah Sterling also introduced our group to her real personality. It was amazing watching her grow stronger and more confident day by day, between her relationship with young girls in the township, to the friendships she made with girls in the group was first class. Leah like the rest of the group really challenged herself, for that reason she will never forget this experience.

"Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself"

Spending time in Blanco working with kids, painting, cleaning gardens, doing food drops to people who have nothing and feeding sick people at clinic. Taking part in all these activities on a daily basis, how does one find themselves? Ask Decky Thompson. Decky was a huge inspiration to the rest of the group, especially me. One amazing trait he has is the time he dedicates to speak to people, whether it be the old blind lady he spent one hour with in an Old peoples home, to the fella serving in the petrol station. He repeated on several occasions as we left Blanco on Monday 'This is only the beginning', during this experience I know Decky discovered a new and improved Decky Thompson. Word of warning world, watch out for this 5ft 2 giant. Dee Mccoubrey might not agree with this, but I feel he found himself during the experience of our debrief sessions. Dee showed on several occasions his ability to articulate his words when talking about his feelings, affirming other group work members and evening leading an impromptu debrief activity on us (youth workers) at the end of our final session. Dee grew in confidence through out this journey, I have no doubt he will bring these qualities back home.

"The greatest gift you can give someone is your time. Because when you give someone your time your giving them a portion of your life that you will never get back"

One of the many highlights of the trip for me was the amazing relationships which developed between young people from Belfast and kids from Blanco. All 14 young people made a strong, strong connection with one or more kids from Blanco that they will remember for the rest of their lives. We challenged our group not to give kids sweets because they transform to beggers, and that their love, affection and time will be something both they and the kids of Blanco will cherish much more. Three of our lads who experienced real loving relationships whilst in the township were Ciaran, Lewis and Paddy. The relationship they built with 2 young boys and a young girl from Blanco was unreal to witness. Three real lads 2 from Ardoyne and 1 from Shankill, played big brother/ father type roles to these kids for the guts of a fortnight. The sky is the limit for these 3 lads, serious potential. Paddy is the wisest person for his age I have ever come across, the way he thinks and articulates his thinking had me intrigued every debrief session. Lewis is 16, he introduced the group and plans for the day in a hall full of 70 young offenders, who were in for murder, rape, theft drug abuse. He done it with so much comfort, bare in mind majority of the residents were older than him, he realized if he can do that then he can deliver activities/ workshops for any group of people. Ciaran during the trip was referred to as "jack in the box" and "the heart beat of our team", both descriptions are suffice. The energy he brought to everything he done whilst here was phenomenal. I have been honored to be a part Ciaran's 3 year progressional route, the past 2 weeks have been the pinnacle of that process although I'm looking forward to helping Ciaran surpass that and get what he is fully capable of achieving in life.

"Capture it now, relive it forever"

The 2 weeks we spent in SA were possibly the fastest 2 weeks of my life because you are constantly on the go, no down time at all. Although I have never found myself thinking and reflecting as much in my life, it becomes the norm. Using debrief sessions and random one to ones we ensured that young people were taking learning from everything which happened on a daily basis. Caitlin, Demi and Emma are three girls I know have took so much from this short 2 week period in their life long journey. Caitlin described part of her experience as "unwordable", watching her shine as the days passed was unreal. Her relationship with Muna blossomed, I think this had directly impacted her input in debrief sessions, several occasions towards the end of our trip when she spoke eyes were glued to her, that speaks volumes. Demi "mama of the group", will use her roller coaster relationship with the most sporadic kid in the township when future challenges arrive, she showed great perseverance and if she can adapt this into her life then the chapters of her story are endless. Emma used the traveling to find her feet in the group, whilst in the old peoples home on our first Sunday Emma shot to the top of her game and stayed there. I will always remember Emma for the three amazing relationships which grew and developed in SA. Firstly her relationship with Simon a pensioner from the old peoples home, who Emma took so much from and had her smiling from ear to ear everything she spoke of him. Secondly her amazing relationship with Llyla, when they were together they were in their own we bubble, watching Emma part from her brought a tear to my eye. Lastly, the relationship between Emma and her brother Dee, it was so special, and I mean special. They spoke about each other with so much love and pride, supported one another greatly, what an experience to share with a sibling.

"All I am and all I hope to be I owe my guardian angel, my mother"

Through the period in SA family always crept into the agenda during the debrief sessions. Talking points ranged from not giving enough time to family to them being proud of the work the young people are doing. Grace and Ermins sessions with the group had young people thinking of family dearly, the latter laying flowers at his mum grave and the session later that night were two of the most emotionally powerful events which occurred all week. Lyndon And Russia are two of the strongest people I have ever met, I am so honored to have shared my experience with these two. I know both of their guardian angels will be looking over them with sheer pride and smiling. Lyndon set himself massive goals along during the journey, he blew them out of the water. The anniversary event for his mum was all him, his idea, his planning and him taking the lead in front of nearly 100 people in a township in SA. That was a special moment. Lyndon's personality has been nothing but positive out here, everything he wanted, he got. Russia was first class through out the whole experience, it's hard for me to put into words, it's one of them ones, you had to be there. Her loving relationship with Lisa was great to watch, she had her smiling all day whilst Lisa gave the rest of us dirty looks. The confidence and comfort she delivered activities in crèche and old peoples home was amazing. The maturity Russia was showing as days passed was topped off by supporting her older sister whilst on beach in SA, their relationship is special.

I am privileged to call the past 2 weeks work, I have learned so much and brought my motivation to a new level. It is the outcome based programme I have ever heard or witnessed, and I am honored to write this blog summarizing it. The relationships and friendships for life which have cemented over the period is unreal, they really are role models and the driving force in regards to community relations.

The biggest challenge the young people in group will face is going home, bringing all the learning and experience into their lives on a daily basis. They are writing their own story, after the last 2 weeks we are only at a comma in their journey not a full stop. Through out my blog I didn't speak about myself much because my experience was lived through these 14 amazing young people and staff team which I wouldn't replace for the world. The future is so bright for these 14 amazing young people, I will support them in every way possible in order to achieve their goals. One thing I adored about this group is the attitude they showed to every obstacle they came across, they overcame the obstacle and more because that's what they do. The group wore their hearts on their sleeves throughout this whole journey, they inspire me so much.

I decided to use several quotes through out my blog which young people had used in theirs. Our group relate to music and quotes, It gets them thinking, it gets them reflecting, they know it's show time.

"Your life is a reflection of your thoughts and actions. If you change your thinking and decision making, you change your life"

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