Ulster Project hosts students from Northern Ireland in North Texas

The Ulster Project started in 1975, during violence in what was called the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland, to start a dialogue and promote unity with the younger generation.

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After a pandemic break, the Ulster Project Arlington is hosting students from Northern Ireland again. On Wednesday morning, they were volunteering at Mission Arlington.

"Bring them over there to America where we're this big melting pot of nationalities and things," Ulster Project Arlington President Michelle Hennessy said. "Kind of show them we're all the same."

The Ulster Project started in 1975 at the height of violence between Catholics and Protestants during what was called the 'Troubles'.

"So it's much better and the violence has pretty much subsided," Hennessy said. "But it's very deep-rooted just within the families. Kind of just passed down from grandparents to parents, to children."

Like the donation piles students sorted at Mission Arlington, separating men's from women's clothing, or housewares from toys; Northern Ireland is still sorted by religion.

"Still now we have like Protestant schools and Catholic schools," David McGinley from Belfast said. "So like, we wouldn't really mix."

Since 1994 the Ulster Project Arlington has been hosting students' stay with families.

"When everyone got here, I was trying to figure out who was who and what was what, and I would go up to them and I'd be like, so you're Catholic. So you're Protestant," Arlington host student Taylor Sullivan said. "I was told that was sort of rude."

"Normally people don't ask that sort of question, are you Catholic or Protestant, because it can be a really risky question to ask," Caleb Nelson from Carrickfergus said. "It sounds a little morbid, but if you ask the wrong question you could get shot."

In North Texas, the students have a safe space to get to know each other and learn from one another.

"We're so similar, but we kinda just have to be taken away from whatever stigma was over there to be able to talk about it freely," Tara Kerr of Belfast said. "So back home I'll definitely try to influence other people, my friends, to try and keep a more open mind."

The teenagers will be in Texas until mid-July, getting a chance to volunteer and sit side-by-side to help future generations see eye-to-eye.

"We're all just people at the end of the day," Kerr said.

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