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YSI hits Galway on the next leg of the 2018 SpeakOut Tour

Our reporter Ellen looks at the social issues young people are tackling with YSI

Written by Ellen Butler and posted in opinion

This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for please contact

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Over 1,100 students from 25 secondary schools descended on the Shearwater Hotel in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, for the Midlands/West leg of the YSI Speak Out Tour on 14th and 15th March.

The annual Speak Out Tour is part of the Young Social Innovators of the Year Awards. YSI is a non-profit organisation that encourages and enables young people to tackle social issues that affect them and their communities. It gives young people the opportunity to explore these challenges and to establish ways to counteract them and advocate change.

Over the months of February and March, YSI is travelling 8,000 kilometres, around the country, to meet 7,000 Transition Year students participating in the programme. Of the 400 teams nationwide, 30 will be shortlisted to compete for the national title of Young Social Innovators of the Year on the 8th May 2018 in the Croke Park, Dublin.

At the Speak Out Tour events, each group has two minutes onstage to present their projects to their peers, invited guests and the YSI panel. On Thursday, this was all undertaken alongside the charismatic Dayl Cronin, former member of boyband Hometown and master of ceremonies for the day.

Rachel Collier, CEO of Young Social Innovators, believes“it’s important to create more opportunities to hear the voices of the next generation. We need a pipeline of leaders, innovators and change-makers, and we all must adapt to make the space for this generation to emerge and be heard.”

Marketing and Communications Officer at YSI, Maria McLoughlin, noted how important informal, inclusive, student-led events like these are,

“For some students, this is their first introduction to being vocal about something they care about... It’s student-led and there’s a massive sense of ownership, that’s what’s so empowering.”

“The young people teach themselves, the teachers are guides. It’s a very different learning environment and often works really well for students who don’t thrive in formal learning environments.”

“Students said it’s really made them think about how they approach their future careers and lives… It’s the biggest gathering of young innovators in the country. We recognise in YSI that young people have a massive role to play in society and sometimes they don’t feel like they’re valued.”

“From my own point of view, I spend a lot of time in the office so it’s amazing to get out on the road to see the massive potential of young people and be reminded of how important it is… We want to tell them that we care what they say and want to give them a platform to be heard.”

I visited the Speak Out on the second day of proceedings to get a sense of what it’s all about and take a closer look at some of the projects.

The schools participating on the day were:

  • Moate Community School, Co. Westmeath
  • Sacred Heart Secondary School, Tullamore, Co. Offaly
  • Rice College, Westport, Co. Mayo
  • Ardscoil Rath Iomgháin, Co. Kildare
  • St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath
  • Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa, Clara, Co. Offaly
  • Calasanctius College, Oranmore, Co. Galway
  • Coláiste Iognáid, Galway City
  • Salerno Jesus and Mary Secondary School, Galway City.

Jump to a project profile

My Future, My Vote (Sacred Heart, Secondary School, Tullamore, Co. Offaly)


On the day it was announced that the Vote at 16 Bill will meet the Committee Stage of the Seanad this week, Sacred Heart Secondary School looked at the importance of voting. To begin their project, they carried out a school-wide survey to scope the level of voting awareness. The results showed that only 30% of those surveyed knew how to vote and why it was important and also that 75% supported the Vote @ 16 campaign. The group published an information pamphlet and campaigned around the school to educate students on the values of voting and how to register. A referendum was held to look at the effectiveness of the campaign. The results showed a large jump in engagement with the topic, with a 50% increase in those who knew how to and saw the value of voting. The team was, naturally, delighted with the statistics, knowing that they had a played a part in improving the civic involvement of their peers in society.

Different Types of Child Abuse: Break the Silence(Ardscoil Rath Iomgháin, Co. Kildare)


One group from Co. Kildare turned to the issue of child abuse and took to the stage to deliver some startling statistics. According to students from Ardscoil Rath Iomgháin, 1 in 14 young people in Ireland are victims of physical abuse. What’s even more alarming is that only 22% of victims report these incidents to the authorities. The group’s statistics showed that over 6,000 young people were identified as needing protection from physical abuse. Furthermore, 1 in 2 young people are bullied online and one third of young people have experienced a cyber, online threat. 25% of young people have been bullied repeatedly because of their clothes and physical appearance.

The group then turned to the often unnoticed issue of emotional abuse. 1 in 14 young people have experienced emotional abuse by parents or guardians, making emotional abuse the second most common form of abuse in Ireland.

The group finished up their presentation with the startling statistic that everyday, 60,000 students miss school in Ireland due to bullying issues, but that organisation such as Barnados and the ISPCC are always on hand to help.

Allergy Strategy (Sacred Heart Secondary School, Tullamore, Co. Offaly)


Sacred Heart, Tullamore, this time chose to create awareness of allergic reactions and the sole aim  of their project was to teach people how to respond when someone is having an allergic reaction. The group demonstrated their “Allergy Strategy” onstage, taking the crowd through each step in the process of dealing with an allergic reaction.

The girls were taught this strategy by a local ambulance worker and have since been passing it on to other students and teachers in their school community. The message of the presentation was to “spread the strategy” and make people with allergies feel safe and in good hands. There are approximately 380,000 people in Ireland who have allergies, so it’s no surprise that allergy awareness among the wider community is a priority for this team of students.

Skin Cancer Awareness(Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa, Clara, Co. Offaly)


You may not be aware but skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Ireland. The group representing Ardscoil Chiaráin Naofa brought our attention to skin cancer and how to avoid it. Before beginning the project,  the students asked themselves how much they know about skin cancer. The answer: nothing. With early detection, 90% of skin cancer cases are actually curable. Having said that, every three minutes, someone in Ireland is diagnosed with cancer and, by 2020, 1 in 5 of us will have been diagnosed with skin cancer. Over the course of their project, these students strove to educate people by placing an information board in their school, holding a competition in local primary schools to increase skin safety among kids, and distributed info leaflets in the local shops and businesses of Clara, to inform the wider community. The group raised €700 for the cancer section of Tullamore Hospital, through a bakesale, a coffee morning and a sponsored 100km cycle. One line to sum it all up, “Don’t be a chancer - prevent skin cancer!”

Mental health is visible, but not so visible (Moate Community School, Co. Westmeath)


Thanks to the work of charity organisations and the courage of those who have publicly shared their stories, mental health has lost its taboo status in Ireland and has been brought to the forefront of our society. Nevertheless, Ireland has the fourth highest teen suicide rate in high-income countries. Moate Community School focused their project on the often invisible and unnoticed nature of mental health problems, and the link between mental health and alcohol use.

The students’ presentation was inspired by Winston Churchill’s “black dog”, the nickname he gave to his bouts of depression, which they learned about from 3Ts, a suicide prevention charity. Onstage, one student was followed around by a black balloon. The students realised that he would not be able to shake off that balloon without receiving support from others, helping him to open about his problems

The group also presented profiles to the audience, of individuals suffering from the various types of mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

The team highlighted how significant supporting our peers is, in the fight to tackle negative mental health issues in our communities. Through their contact with Pieta House and the Longford/Westmeath HSE Suicide Prevention Officer, the students found ways to prioritise the mental health of themselves and their peers - breathing techniques, mindfulness, healthy diet, exercising, useful phrases in approaching someone who seems down. Turning this information into leaflets, posters and SPHE workshops, the group managed to educate the students and teachers of Moate Community School the importance of talking about our mental health - something we should all do.

Sign Language (Sacred Heart Secondary School, Tullamore, Co. Offaly)


Approximately 3,000 deaf people in Ireland use sign language. The figure may seem small but, every day, these 3,000 people struggle to interact in public due to their hearing impairments. A group from Sacred Heart in Tullamore performed a scenario onstage, in which a deaf girl pays a visit to the hairdresser. Upon receiving no reply to her multiple questions, the hairdresser realises that the customer is in fact deaf and calls over her colleague, fluent in sign language, to engage with her instead. A potentially degrading and difficult situation was avoided by a greater understanding and knowledge of hearing difficulties.

The group is calling for all workplaces in Ireland to have employees trained in sign language, in order to make Irish society more inclusive to those of us who have hearing impairments. To increase interest and engagement with the topic, the students put posters of sign language letters in their school and in the local community. Along with that, they managed to raise €230 for DeafHear in Tullamore with their sponsored 24 hour silence.

Sexual assault, it's not your fault(Moate Community School, Co. Westmeath)


Another group from Moate Community School took to the stage to tackle one of the most topical issues of recent times - sexual assault. The underlying message of this project was that sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. The recent #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements and the numerous public disclosures of accounts of sexual harassment have alerted us to how prevalent this issue is in all aspects of society. According to the group’s presentation, every fourth woman in Ireland has experienced sexual harassment. The students’ presentation included a poem, which highlighted the prevalence of the problem and listed out some of the commons reasons why 68% of victims of sexual assault remain silent and never report the incidents to the authorities -  “boys will be boys”, “it’s all part of being a woman”, “no one will believe me”. The team are working to enhance societal understanding of sexual assault and to remind victims that they are supported and are not alone. In order to dispel the stigma associated with the issue, we must speak out. In the words of the students, “sexual violence relies on your silence”.

Cruelty behind cosmetics (St. Joseph's Secondary School, Castlebar, Co. Mayo)


The girls of St. Joseph’s turned the focus to animal issues, centring their project on the testing of cosmetics. A survey they conducted with their peers established how little is known about the issue and they endeavoured to bring the topic to the fore in both their school and local communities. The students published an article in the local newspaper, rousing interest and creating awareness of this form of animal cruelty. Elf, a cruelty-free cosmetics company, sent products to the students, to demonstrate how animal testing is not a necessity in the cosmetics industry.

Millions of animals suffer and are killed in cosmetic experiments each year.  In their presentation, the group brought their very own “bunny rabbit” (a student dressed in costume, or else it would be pretty contradictory), onstage to demonstrate the cruel nature of animal testing. They highlighted how, while the procedure is becoming less common in Europe, it is still fully legal in China and airlines like Air France continue to transport monkeys for testing.

Thanks to awareness groups like these, progress is being made and, just last week, a UK petition on the issue went all the way to the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Hope for the homeless (Salerno Jesus and Mary Secondary School, Galway City)


The girls of Salerno Secondary School in Salthill focused on the ever-present and dire issue of homelessness. In December 2017, a total 8,587 people were recorded as homeless in Ireland and much needs to be done to help those in need and to stop this number from increasing.

The project took the angle of homelessness awareness among young people. The group underlined how people from all echelons of Irish society have been affected by the economic problems in recent years and how it’s not only those trapped in the poverty cycle or those from lower socio-economic backgrounds who struggle with financial difficulties.

The students acted out a conversation with a group of students. When one girl suggests that another should host a sleepover, she admits that she can’t, because she doesn’t have a home. The girls’ initial shock is quickly recovered with words of apology for not noticing and, instead of belittling her for it.

Along with the team’s community-wide awareness campaign, they organised a shoe collection for the local Simon Community, gathering 200 pairs of shoes for those in need.

Drugs inject conflict into today's society (Rice College, Westport, Co. Mayo)


Rice College, Westport, chose to highlight another detrimental and omnipresent feature of Irish society- drug abuse. Most readers will regrettably be aware of how prevalent drug use is among young people in Ireland.

The boys in this group focused their project primarily on the ripple effect drug abuse has on society. In their onstage play performance, we see how quickly a house party can turn sour. One character is approached by his drug dealer but, when it transpires that he doesn’t have sufficient money to pay for the drugs he has used, he is attacked and beaten up by the dealer’s gang. The drug user dies from to his injuries, but it’s his parents, his friends and the paramedics involved that have to live on with the horrors of what happened.

The project is a warning to young people of the dangers of using drugs, from taking unidentified substances to the risks of buying and selling. It serves as a reminder of the potentially massive and damaging influence drugs can have in our lives and the lives of those close to us.


I spoke to Sinéad Neylon from Moate Community School, after she won the Most Influential YSI Guide of the day. For the Moate projects, “alcohol abuse and mental health were the two big themes that came up this year… In particular, they wanted to look at suicide and to communicate the fact that suicide never the answer.” In their thirteenth year of participating in the Speak Out Tour, Sinéad remarked on valuable the experience is as an alternative learning opportunity, “It is definitely one of the highlights of their secondary school time and of course they get to engage with social issues that ordinarily they wouldn’t.”


Ellen attended the YSI SpeakOut Tour as a volunteer reporter. If you're interested in learning more about our volunteering roles, visit our 'Get Involved' page. Email if you are interested in getting involved. 

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Published March 28th2018
Tags voting abuse allergy skin cancer mental health deaf sexual assault animal rights homeless drugs
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