Tim Kamaboakai from Liberia YMCA at Greenhill YMCA, Newcastle, Northern Ireland. Photo: Tom Burke/YCI Tim Kamaboakai from Liberia YMCA at Greenhill YMCA, Newcastle, Northern Ireland.

Our Director of Advocacy and Engagement Tom Burke blogs on his experience in Northern Ireland, as he tours YMCAs across the UK to mark the launch of Y Care International’s Tools for Recovery campaign to help rebuild lives devastated by Ebola.

After the trip to Edinburgh with the Scottish YMCA movement, I joined Tim Kamaboakai from Liberia YMCA as he touched down in Belfast. We hot footed it to join the staff, volunteers and community of Greenhill YMCA as they celebrated their 101st Birthday.

Set on the slopes of the Slieve Donard with stunning views overlooking the shores of Dundrum Bay and the picturesque town of Newcastle, Greenhill YMCA holds a special place for me. Over the years Y Care International have led training on Global Youth Work here on a few occasions. It was great to be welcomed back by Kenny, Brendan, Jonny and the volunteer team.

The evening celebrations opened with a thanksgiving service led by Jim of Youthlink NI (causing a somewhat inevitable Tom, Tim & Jim confusion!) and a special note of thanks by Margaret Ritchie MP. It was heartening to hear how Greenhill YMCA holds such a special place in the hearts of so many – from their young team of international volunteers to children and families who have been challenged and excited by their outdoor activities. It is a place of peace in a space which has been so bedevilled by conflict itself.

Indeed, what struck me more than anything was the sense of community at Greenhill. Full of people who share the joy of working together; who share a sense of purpose and, for many, a shared faith, which inspires them to value each other and the world in which we all share. This sense of community is perhaps what makes the global YMCA movement special – whether in Northern Ireland or Liberia or the thousands of communities in which we work.

Tim distributes raffle prizes with Gillian McClay of YMCA Ireland. Photo: Tom Burke/YCI

Tim distributes raffle prizes with Gillian McClay of YMCA Ireland.

The community at Greenhill YMCA had been so touched by the efforts of people in Liberia to overcome Ebola and also to rebuild their lives; they have decided to organise a raffle and silent auction to fundraise for our Tools for Recovery campaign.

We reflected on the importance of the sense of community which stretches far beyond man made borders. Tim reminded us all of the links between the lives of young people in Northern Ireland and Liberia (of which you can read more on Andy’s guest blog) and of the generosity of the Irish YMCA movement as young people were caught up by the crisis of the Liberian civil war by providing generators. Now as young people are rebuilding their lives after the Ebola crisis, the community of Greenhill has reached out to offer their support again.

On Saturday we joined YMCAs from across the movement at City of Belfast YMCA as they celebrated the YMCA World Challenge – a world record attempt for the most football kicks in one hour around the world. It was great fun as everyone joined together – fighting off blustry gales – to set this world record. We were mindful that all over the world thousands of people were joining as part of the global YMCA movement. We were a community coming together in Belfast but contributing to something bigger – locally based but globally focused. A great example of the YMCA movement at its best.

If your YMCA would like to join Greenhill YMCA in fundraising for our Tools for Recovery appeal, you can download our Community Fundraising pack or learn about our Join Hands event on Saturday 11th July.