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June 4, 2004

Deaf Talkabout: Mentoring a winner

From: Belfast Telegraph - Belfast,Nothern Ireland,UK - Jun 4, 2004

By Bob McCullough

04 June 2004

LAST Friday, the Northern Ireland Deaf Youth Association held its annual meeting and presentation of certificates at Walsh's Hotel, in Maghera, followed by the final of the province-wide quiz competition.

Since Jordanstown old pupil Malachy McBurney started the ball rolling in 1989, the aim of the NIDYA has been to build confidence and feelings of self- worth, and encourage the involvement of our young deaf in planning and running activities. They now employ a staff of 16 and Belfast girl Emma Simmons came to talk with me about her new role as mentor co-ordinator for Belfast.

"We offer young people the chance to have someone to listen to their problems and work through them," she told me. " Mentoring is a helping hand, not someone telling you what to do but offering friendly advice and information.

"You and the mentor identify your problems and needs. You will get advice on things like housing, benefits, jobs, drug awareness and many other ways of reaching your goal, solving problems and improving the quality of your life."

The mentoring project is supported by the Children's Fund and currently employs four staff within the NIDYA. Emma shares the Belfast work with Peter Barr, while in Londonderry, the mentor co-ordinator is Jhoanna Serna-O'Hagan, assisted by Annette O'Doherty. Barry Campbell and Caroline Doherty supervise the work and it is hoped to eventually cover all of Northern Ireland.

Constant supervision is kept on all work and mentors are under strict guidelines to safeguard both themselves and the young folk under their care. They are advised to meet only in public places where others can see them and private rendezvous are forbidden.

A child protection course will be held in May and a counselling skills weekend is planned for June. All the mentor volunteers are given a police check and encouraged to attend training courses to build up their CVs and equip them with the skills needed to mentor young deaf people.

There are currently 20 young people involved in mentoring and the number is increasing all the time. Emma told me that as well as qualities of leadership they look for evidence of reliability, patience, enthusiasm, interest, respect for young folk, a non-judgemental attitude, flexibility, the ability to keep confidences and a willingness to undergo training.

Emma showed me written responses from several young deaf people who had completed the training:

"When I was told I should think about mentoring I thought... I'm not mad... I don't need a shrink. But mentoring isn't like that.. it's like meeting a friend for coffee." Joseph (age 18).

"I knew I needed a hand, but didn't know who to turn to ... I wanted to talk with someone who would understand but not judge me. My mentor knew exactly what I was going through." Clare (age 13).

"Choices... choices! And I didn't know what direction to go. My mentor helped me to see my options and took it from there." Tom (age 23).

"My confidence has really grown ? I feel more independent." Anne (age 19).

• Emma can be contacted by e-mail on and Jhonna on The Belfast phone/fax number is 90 438566 and minicom 90 236453. The Londonderry number is 71 271978 and minicom 71 262699.

© 2004 Independent News and Media (NI) a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd