Nothing About Us, Without Us

Bringing young people's voices to the EU Parliament,
supported by EU Erasmus funding

A member of Plan International Ireland’s Youth Advisory Panel, Nathan McDonagh blogs about their trip to Belgium.

When we set off for Belgium we weren’t exactly sure what we were getting into. We knew we’d be meeting with MEPs, but we didn’t know much else. We arrived at the hostel and met with our French and Belgian counterparts. Any unease we felt about mingling with our new teammates was quickly put to rest as we bonded over pizza, and explained to them the nuances of Irish culture such as wooden spoons and our personal versions of Irish history. The bonding wasn’t just between our respective YAPs but also within our own as this was the first time we had all interacted in a less formal setting and we began to gel together as a group.

The next few days were long and almost bled into each other. The YAPs and our wonderful facilitators worked diligently on ensuring we would be as best prepared as possible to speak to the MEPs. Over the course of intense few days, we meticulously outlined our objectives, researched and fact checked, created profiles of our MEPs and decided exactly what we felt we would like to see the EU do with our recommendation. We were prepared for every eventuality and were ready. Each day was bookended with a few minutes of reflection, allowing us to take a step back and see just how much we had done and how well we were doing.

Our evenings and break times on the trip were phenomenal. The Belgian YAP members and facilitators graciously acted as tour guides for us and took us to the best sites Brussels had to offer and explained the history and culture of the city. Kate, one of our facilitators kept spirits high with energiser activities regularly too. One evening, we attended a small festival down by Quai des Péniches and let our hair down for a few hours. Work and play in equal measure. When back in the hostel at night, we’d congregate in one of the rooms in our pyjamas and talk about our lives, homes and what we hoped to achieve as part of Plan international. These moments were raw, and some of my personal favourites as we transitioned from colleagues on a trip, to friends.

Finally we went to the EU parliament. After some minor travel woes, we were nervous and excited as we received our guided tour of the building and given an outline of the EU bodies and functions they hold. We met with our assigned MEPs, most meetings went incredibly well with invitations of future consultation, others not so well met seemingly with disinterest. It dampened our mood but again, the amazing facilitators from INO. BNO and FNO were on hand to raise them again. We parted ways that night with our international YAPs but vowed to keep in touch and work together in the future.

I think I speak for everyone involved when I say it was an unforgettable experience and to extend a massive thank you to BNO for their hospitality, FNO for their support and of course Kate, Emma, Gwen, Aoife and Rebecca for all of their help, encouragement and entrusting us with representing Plan in such an exciting and fulfilling way.

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