The Chance of a Lifetime: An Evaluation of Project Children

Alan Smith, Dominic Murray

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Introduction Most holiday schemes for children from Northern Ireland originated in the 1970s. The early emphasis was to provide children from 'troubled areas' with an opportunity to spend the school holidays in a more peaceful environment. Early schemes were based in Northern Ireland, but soon programmes began operating to England, the Republic of Ireland and Europe. Images of children caught up in the conflict appeared on television screens throughout the world and the first schemes in the United States appeared in the mid-70s. Emphasis on providing relief from the conflict remains an element in the thinking behind most programmes, although riots and street violence are now less prominent features of 'the troubles'. The aims of participating organisations have evolved over the past twenty years and some have taken on additional emphases, usually reflected in the criteria which are applied in selecting children. Some organisations operate from a church base and could be construed as having missionary or ecumenical aims; others emphasise a desire to work with children from economically or socially deprived backgrounds: some wish to work with children who have been directly affected by violence; most wish to involve both Catholic and Protestant children, some simply as a matter of course, but increasingly because of a conscious desire to contribute to a process of reconciliation between the two main communities in Northern Ireland. The overall picture is somewhat fragmented, reflecting the development of disparate projects, relatively isolated from one another. The projects themselves could not operate without high levels of energy, enthusiasm and voluntary commitment from individuals within Northern Ireland and the destination countries. Grant-aid for such programmes has been available from the Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI) since 1975, although not all organisations in the field apply for support. The level of grant-aid has remained fairly constant over the past four years. During 1991-2, the Department of Education provided approximately £140,000 toward 106 programmes involving 3,200 children - over half of these were programmes within Northern Ireland. Grant-aid was provided for 15 programmes which sent a total of 500 children to the United States. The earliest programme in the United States was based in Minnesota and schemes now operate to most States. A considerable number are based on the east coast perhaps because it is there that the concentration of Irish-American communities is greatest. In 1992, the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust facilitated a conference for representatives from over 20 different organisations involved in bringing children to the United States. This provided a rare opportunity for representatives to discuss programme aims and share information about operating procedures and the age-groups involved. Altogether programmes to the United States involve nearly 2,000 children per year (almost 1 per cent of the school going population). Assuming that different children are involved each year, this means that up to 10 per cent of the current generation of schoolchildren have spent time in the United States on one of these programmes. Programmes vary greatly in terms of the number of children involved. The smallest brings just four each year, but most operate within a range of 10-50 children. The largest is an organisation known as Project Children which brings approximately 900 children from Northern Ireland to the United States each summer. This evaluation concerns a small part of the Project Children programme which brought twenty children, aged 10-13 years old, to the Washington D.C. area for six weeks during the summer of 1992.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUlster University
Number of pages68
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1993


  • education mutual understanding northern ireland


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