Niamh Power, BSC in Psychiatric Nursing
Founder and Director of Youth Release
My name is Niamh Power. I graduated from DCU in 2008 with a degree in Psychiatric nursing. When I started in DCU, I was on the general nursing programme. I was also playing basketball for the DCU college team, in the first semester I ended up getting seriously injured which ruled out basketball for me and general nursing so I decided to do Psychiatric nursing and I've never looked back.
DCU has given me a lot to be grateful for. Since basketball was out of the question for me, I looked to their various clubs and societies to get involved in something and find my passion. I have always have a great interest in working with the homeless, when I saw the programs that the St Vincent De Paul society ran, I knew this was the one I wanted to join. By the end of year one, I was awarded Fresher of the year and became next year's Chairperson for the St. Vincent De Paul society. During my time as Chairperson of the DCU St Vincent De Paul society, there were many new programs established. I am a strong believer that charity starts at home, so I really wanted to make volunteering at home more appealing to students. We started the very first DCU soup run, and an elderly visitation program and continued with the programs that were in place. That year we got awarded most improved society in DCU and nationally at the BICS awards., a huge boost for volunteering in Ireland.
That summer I went to Zambia and Ethiopia and volunteered. In Ethiopia I worked at a make shift youth centre for street kids and with the Mother Theresa sisters of charity orphanage in the Bale region of Ethiopia. I don't know if it was my age, naivety, shock or heart but I left Ethiopia with a huge sense of, I know I can do more.
The poverty experienced by the Ethiopian people is inconceivable to me. The young people that I met in Ethiopia reminded me of the kids in Ballymun Plough Youth project. I really valued the importance of Youth Centres having worked at the Plough Youth Club. I saw the potential for youth centres in Ethiopia. When I came home, I was told to be prepared for the culture shock and I certainly got it. I couldn't stop thinking and comparing my life to those that I had met. For the first year I felt extremely guilty about almost everything there was to feel guilty about. I looked into other NGO's that were offering outreach to street kids in Ethiopia but they were few. With an ongoing crisis whereby people's basic needs were not being met, youth development was not a priority.
After I returned from Ethiopia, I remained in contact with many local people I had met there. I expressed my interest to return to Ethiopia and do something to help the people living there. I was invited to Dire Dawa, Ethiopia where the community asked if we could build a youth center for orphan and vulnerable children. During my final year in DCU I decided I was going to take a group to Ethiopia that summer and raise funds to build a youth center (how naive of me). There were ten volunteers including myself, my sister Laura (DCU Alumni 2010), and Alan Flanagan (former DCU SU President), with that Youth Release was established late 2007/2008.
That summer we did a pilot program, we ran a school and sports camp for street children for 6 weeks. The first day we had maybe 100 children, by the end of week 6 I think that number was up to 300-350 children. It was incredible! I sat down with the group before we left and decided we were going to do this! Youth Release was going to build a youth center for street children! For five years, we have being going back and forth to Ethiopia trying to make the youth center a reality. I won't lie it's taken a lot of hard work, but I have had some great people around me supporting me.
My sister Laura and I have just returned from Ethiopia, and guess what? The youth center is finally open. There are 275 children attending the programs at the youth center. The youth center is providing educational support, counselling services, tutorial support, health education and HIV awareness classes, and various clubs such as drama, music and cultural clubs. It was absolutely amazing to see the youth center up and running. (If you would like to read about our trip and see some pictures we kept a blog while there http://youthreleaseethiopia.blogspot.com/2013/01/its-hard-to-believe-were-back.html)
I have a lot to thank DCU for, for helping to make this happen. From day one, they have supported Laura and I through fundraising, helping us get volunteers, and just spreading the word. To date we have had 7 DCU Alumni volunteering with Youth Release. Right now our committee is all DCU alumni. If I had never got involved with SVP who knows what would have happened? If I never went to DCU would I have had such support? Right now I am back from Ethiopia, and am so grateful to everyone who made this happen, oh and did I mention this is all voluntary? I also work as a nurse, I guess I should thank DCU for that too.