Back in July 2006, whilst on rugby tour to South Africa I got the chance to visit a small, cramped cell where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen years of his life.
Putting politics aside for a moment, it literally blows me away how one man could even survive in this environment, never mind catalyse change in a society that had been divided formally for the best part of fifty years. As a kid of the ‘Agreement Generation’ in Northern Ireland, this basic premise of putting prejudices and differences aside and working towards a shared future for the good of all really hit home.
Strong, courageous, committed leadership; built on a set of strong values that encompassed the vision and hope for South Africa, and the world.
As cheesy that that sounds, it really is so true. Although at the time as a team we looked back at the tour with mixed emotions; we lost five from five against quality opposition but had a great tour and developed close friendships that I have to this day. On a personal level, I really believe that was a key moment in shaping me into the person I am today. The experience gave me a keen sense of social conscience and a strong interest in global affairs; real building blocks that have probably been a big influence in decisions that I’ve made socially, academically and professionally to date.
The WIP opportunity was to be honest, a long time in the pipeline. I went to a presentation that was given by the Queen’s Careers Service when I was in first year of my Geography degree and instantly thought this is for me. The idea of fostering a group of talented young people and equipping them with resources and skills to ‘be the change they wanted to see in the world’ was something that really excited and inspired me. First year wasn’t the right time however. I felt I needed to develop and test myself, gain more of an appreciation of international affairs and really engage myself in service before I’d even contemplate applying…
A trip to Cambodia in July 2011 under the tutelage of Pete Kernoghan and Helen Warnock really changed this. They instilled in me a sense of self-belief quite like nothing before and inspired me to go out and actually do something with the skill set and talents that have been given to me.
Over the next few months, things seemed strangely fall into place. I began volunteering for a number of organisations and really trying to put wheels on visions that I had in a number of areas of life, meeting some amazing people along the way. I felt the time was right, so I applied for WIP and was so fortunate to have been selected.
Skip forward to present day and I’m sitting in Bethesda, just outside Washington, D.C. at our lovely host dad Jim’s house. It’s 11pm, probably near 25 degrees outside and feeling thankful for opportunities that have come my way to have lead me to this point. Next Monday, I start as a research intern at the National Cancer Institute at NIH, a hugely prestigious medical research facility renowned worldwide, world leaders in my chosen field of Public Health. This week we’ve had the pleasure of some hugely insightful and inspirational talks ranging from DC Police Chief Pat Burke, to political analysts, EJ Dionee and Mark Shields. Last night we slipped by the White House, walked past the Washington Monument and today got a tour around the very “engine of democracy” that is the Capitol building (O’Liathain, 2012)
The next eight weeks will be intensive, challenging and I’m sure at times pretty tiring but if there’s one thing that I’ve realised from past experience, this is an experience that is unique and has the ability to be genuinely life changing.
Don’t settle….DREAM BIG!!!