Uniting Communities Ambassador | Aaron Smith

Aaron speaking at an event | NICRC

This is an article written by Aaron Smith.

My ambassador journey began in 2017, when I enrolled in the T:BUC Uniting Communities Young Leader programme funded by the Department for Communities. Insecure and uncertain of myself, I went in headfirst, hoping to gain some experience and boost my future employment opportunities and meet a few new people, but I had no idea that this once modest pilot programme would become the single most defining opportunity that I have ever received. Five years on, I am still a part of Uniting Communities, both as an advocate for its efficacy, as well as being employed by its delivery partners to work with participants. I would not be in the position I am right now without the experiences that I have been provided, which I will outline now.

I began my leadership journey with T:BUC Uniting Communities through sports and creativity by getting to know 40 amazing participants from east and west Belfast, who were coming together for their own personal development, as well as the development of our collective area. We began with basic training such as our first aid, child protection and peer mentoring OCN qualifications, to give us a head start in our careers and build a foundation of knowledge for the future. We developed our CV’s and personal development plans, setting goals as to what we wanted to learn and achieve to ensure we became better role models. Through this, I nourished my skills and ability in networking and delivering sessions to 11-16 year old participants in the programme. We made invaluable links with some fantastic organisations and representatives from around the world, which has remained a gift to me.

In 2019, myself and other ambassadors co-designed a human rights charter alongside Commonwealth Sport NI, which gave us the opportunity to go to Rwanda and encourage commonwealth sporting delegates and human rights bodies from across the world to sign up to our declaration. This was a valuable experience which I used to network with sporting policymakers and become acquainted with their mission. Because of this, I was then afforded the opportunity shortly after to speak on a panel at the United Nations about our declaration and its purpose. Up to then, those experiences were directly related to my involvement with UC, but I used them to springboard within this sector. Individually, I was invited to speak on sporting panels with SafeSport International, the European Council and FIFA. As well as this, in 2020, I was awarded the Pramerica Spirit of the Community award, marking me as all-Ireland youth volunteer of the year. This was a great boost to my confidence and I have since been employed for 1.5 years as a youth support worker in the Education Authority up until March of this year.

In summer 2022, I was also selected to be a part of the NI delegation for One Young World, which saw me and a group of young advocates for change travel to Washington DC and Puerto Rico to build and explore networks with homelessness and environmental charities. More recently, I have just started a new position as Education and Training coordinator in the Commonwealth Human Rights and Democracy Network. This is an executive committee that works on behalf of the Commonwealth Secretariat to design and deliver human rights and democracy capacity training to young people across the Commonwealth of Nations. Through this, I have been a part of the social media team for 2022’s COP27 event.

Aaron at a sporting event | NICRC

Within the last year, I have also been to Zagreb, Croatia and Slovenia to complete training that taught me how to expand and engage throughout my delivery through visual aids with Erasmus+, which has been a great resource that I have made use of on countless occasions within my work as a youth worker and in my present position as a youth coordinator for Todd’s Leap, the lead delivery partner for the Uniting Communities through sport and creativity programme in South Belfast. The current young leaders and ambassador’s programme has allowed me to see from an outsider’s perspective just how great of an opportunity it is for the young people involved and how it has the capacity to completely change lives, sincerely. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank DfC and all of the delivery partners we have had throughout the years for making it possible for me to have these experiences and become the person I am today.

Aaron Smith