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Solas Project, ‘let your light shine’

Solas provides programmes for disadvantaged children-The Solas Project, facebook page

Solas provides programmes for disadvantaged youths-The Solas Project, Facebook page

Government cuts to education in the last few years have forced volunteers to set up alternative areas of learning for young people. Sinéad Makk learns about one such group based in the Liberties

The Solas Project, a community rejuvenation project for South Inner City Dublin, was founded in January 2007 by Salla Herron.  It was set up with an aim to “see communities rejuvenated through education and sport”.

The project is based on young people and helping them to overcome any obstacles or limitations they are forced to deal with, such as educational or social disadvantages.

Originally, the scheme only included an after-school programme which was set up to help students who required extra support at an early age, but now it has extended and is currently running seven programmes.

South Inner City Dublin was chosen as the area for the project because at that time a number of people, that are now associated with Solas, were involved in an outreach programme in the area and recognised the need for more support around the Liberties.  The founders of the project wanted to compliment the good things happening in the area and support the local schools.

Graham Jones, Head Gardener of the Solas Project, was involved in the outreach programme that led to the eventual creation of the Solas project; “We built relationships with people in the area and we were more inclined to help them because we saw the need.”

The Solas Project’s afterschool programme is now in its sixth year and caters for 30 pupils across two locations. The programme runs every Monday to Thursday from 2.30 -6.00 pm and comprises of three main factors; eating a hot meal together as a group, helping pupils with their homework and finally a fun activity such as swimming, baking or arts and crafts.

Positive results from the scheme are evident and a teacher of a student involved in the programme is delighted with the change; “The outcomes are very evident. The children attending the after-school programme are much happier and more secure, and they are much less likely to become frustrated with the educational system when they experience levels of success provided by programmes such as this.”

Jones commented on the change in participants saying “building relationships with them is a natural process and over time you see the relationship between volunteers and participants has a positive impact.”

In addition to the primary school programme Solas Project also provides a secondary school programme called ‘Step Up‘ and a college awareness programme called ‘Y not’; and finally a reading support programme.

‘Step up’ aims to help students in the transition between primary school and secondary school and it has a third level induction scheme for sixth class students.

In the disadvantaged areas within the Liberties as few as four per cent of school leavers go on to third level education.

Solas Project also set up a prison and probation programme in 2011, which services all of Dublin City rather than being confined to just South Inner City Dublin.  Graham Jones worked as a solicitor for many years, which is where his inspiration for the prison probation programme came from; “Coming to the end of my legal career I was involved in a criminal justice programme where I met young men involved in crime and I wanted to help them follow a more productive life.”

This programme started out as a nine week tag rugby training course at St. Patrick’s Institution (a prison for young offenders aged between 17 – 21) for prisoners coming to the end of their sentence.  Involvement is voluntary in this project and the idea is to encourage self-discipline and motivation.

Solas Project relies heavily on volunteers and at any one time can have 60-70 volunteers actively involved, including a few Liberties residents who volunteer.

For more information on the Solas project you can contact the organisers at info@solasproject.ie.

Image: The Solas Project’s Facebook page

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