From Bonfires to Africa: Pallets building community relations in Belfast

Mention the words wooden pallets and for many in Northern Ireland the image that comes to mind is one involving bonfires.

We’re used to seeing the platforms heaped high on burning pyres during the marching season.

Well, teenagers who attend New Lodge Youth Centre in north Belfast, have come up with another use for them.

They’re turning the pallets which had been earmarked for bonfires, into parts for cartwheels and donkey harnesses and transforming the lives of villagers in Africa.

The project which is teaching the young people hand skills using saws and other tools has been developed in partnership with two local charities Beyond Skin and the World Enterprise Hand Skills Group.

Youth across the road in Tiger's Bay and other areas of Northern Ireland are involved in similar projects helping African villagers.

Darren Ferguson founded Beyond Skin. The charity’s aim is to strengthen community relations, nurture peace processes, cultivate security, empower youth and promote interaction between different cultures.

He said: “The New Lodge project is hands-on and its aim is to give young people the opportunity to work with tools and other materials to develop things which improve the welfare of animals and farming to improve the lives of their global neighbours in South Africa”.

For the young people involved, being taught how to use saws and other tools is a welcome distraction from the world of high-tech.

One of the participants in the New Lodge project, Stephen, was really keen to get involved in making wooden toggle buttons. They’re used in new harnesses for donkeys to help them humanely pull the carts which are carrying water containers and other supplies to the villages in Africa.

Stephen said: "I really like drilling holes and making the buttons for the harnesses.  I like knowing that we're helping people who don't have the funds to make them themselves."

The donkey harness is an innovative design developed by the instructor Paddy Finnegan and it has transformed life for both the animals and the villagers.

Paddy established the World Enterprise Hand skills group as a means of educating schoolchildren and adults in the care of working donkeys globally.

Commenting on the project he said: “We’re turning pallets which can be found in South Africa into lightweight, strong cartwheels which help the donkeys move water around the villages. We’ve also come up with a way to weave natural sisal and manmade sisal into harnesses. It is a completely new humane design which uses toggle buttons to hold it all together.

“And the children here”, he added, "the girls and boys, have been helping me show that the little tools I'm supplying in Africa will enable the villagers to make their own toggle buttons and weave their own humane harnesses for their animals”.

Ruth Curran is one of the youth leaders on the project. She’s delighted with its success. She said: “The young people are actually able to improve by building relationships with each other and companies that create great backgrounds for other people around the world. But they're also able to help in their own community and to give back to others."

She said none of the teenagers had missed any of the training weeks since the project started and added: “Every young person has built something that's going to make a difference.

Similar projects are being held in the nearby Tiger’s Bay and other areas across Northern Ireland.

It goes to show that no matter how many thousands of miles apart you live in the world, collaboration can help transform and shape the lives of others.

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