Sisters  Emily and Chloe O'Loughlin are two of the 28 Strabane teenagers taking part in the Dermot Earley Youth Leadership Initiative.
Sisters  Emily and Chloe O'Loughlin are two of the 28 Strabane teenagers taking part in the Dermot Earley Youth Leadership Initiative. 

DEYLI helping youth of Strabane to flourish in challenging times


By John Harrington

The ongoing success of the Dermot Earley Youth Leadership Initiative (DEYLI) this year has showcased just how resilient and resourceful our young people can be.

For those unaware, the DEYLI is a partnership between the GAA, Foróige, and NUI Galway that empowers young people to enhance their leadership capabilities to better enable them to reach their full potential and have a positive impact on the world around them.

The Covid-19 pandemic had meant the approximately 230 people participating in the programme this year have had to do so virtually, but this has done little to dim the enthusiasm of those taking part.

A great example of this attitude has been evident in Strabane where 28 teenagers have taken part in the initiative which has been facilitated by Strabane Sigersons GAA club.

Sigersons GAA club Coaching Officer, Ciaran McLaughlin, admits he feared initially that doing the programme online might prove to be a challenge, but he’s hugely impressed by the application shown by everyone who took part in the first module, Leadership for Life’, which allowed them to set out their hopes for society and explore key concepts of leadership.

“Over the weekend they completed Module one and we're moving on to module two now so it's been really going well,” McLaughlin told GAA.ie

“As they developed through it the positive changes in all of those who participated was great to see. Some of them have really come on in leaps and bounds.

“Young people are well able to deal with adversity if they're given an opportunity to flourish and that's what I'd like to think we have done.

“What we said to them was that if they wanted to become a young leader then you need to have goals that you want to achieve and here's how you can go about doing it.

“The engagement has been fantastic. Some of them have been out of this world in terms of understanding of it and their application to it.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has been tough on everyone, but perhaps especially teenagers at a time in their lives when they should be expanding their horizons instead of having their world constricted by circumstances out of their control.

Important experiences like developing friendships, furthering their education, and partaking in team sport have all been stunted by the social lockdown we are currently experiencing.

Strabane Sigersons Coaching Officer and Ulster GAA Vice-President, Ciarán McLaughlin.
Strabane Sigersons Coaching Officer and Ulster GAA Vice-President, Ciarán McLaughlin.

That’s why McLaughlin believes the DEYLI has been such a great experience for those 28 teenagers who have undertaken it under his supervision.

It has given them the opportunity to engage with their peers in a really constructive way and helped them to shape their own lives for the better by encouraging them to think about ways they can positively impact their own community.

It has also given them the chance to feel like they are part of a team again.

That sense was enhanced this week when all 28 participants were given specially commissioned jersies they were able to purchase when they successfully applied for funding that was available to youth groups in Strabane.

“For me, one of the reasons that we took on the Dermot Earley Youth Leadership Initiative this year was the health and wellbeing aspect to it,” says McLaughlin.

“This is a very challenging time for our young people who haven't had all the outlets they would normally have.

“We wanted to give them a focus in life with the added benefit of hopefully giving them the tools to shape their life for the better.

“Perhaps they need a bit of direction or realise the need to get their exams to be able to study what they want in university or pursue their ambition to be a plumber or whatever the case may be.

“I just felt that if we could help give them that sort of focus and direction, it would be a massive success.

“Module one was very much a blank canvas and now we're starting module two they're really starting to develop their wee goals and projects and they're starting to see what they can influence.

“Things that have come up have been helping the elderly or those suffering from loneliness or other mental health issues.

“They're starting to see how they could positively influence their communities and make a difference.”