Life and youth work through an international lens

Dermot O’Brien has been involved in youth work in Ireland for more than 20 years.  He is a freelance trainer/facilitator/consultant in national and international  youth work and is also a voluntary youth worker with Celtic Youth Bray, Be Well Bray and Phoenix Youth Project. Dermot was recently selected to be one of 20 facilitators at the European Youth Work Convention in Brussels where more than 450 delegates from across Europe came together to reflect on youth work in Europe and where it's going. In this post, Dermot reflects on how the international dimension has played an important role in the work he does and in the lives of those he works with. This post is an edited extract from a longer interview that Dermot gave to Coyote Magazine in December 2015; you can read the full article here.


The importance of international youth work

"I am sitting here in Riga surrounded by young people from Ireland, Finland and Latvia who are here to share and learn and explore and reflect and ultimately DO something about LGBT and Human Rights. I see young people from Ireland presenting the story of how their country achieved Marriage Equality by popular vote and a Gender Recognition Bill strongly influenced by those working in the field. These are young people who recognise the significance of those achievements BUT are not content to sit comfortably because Ireland is 'sorted'.  They see this European Project as an opportunity to explore how the Irish example can support the journey of others and how words like solidarity and activism have an international context that can be REAL if you are brave enough to engage when the opportunity presents itself. These guys are change makers, they will carry the achievements of previous generations and they will continue the work begun by others because they choose to see the world through an international lens and they are willing to take responsibility for their role in that world! At the same time back home in Ireland, four young leaders from Phoenix Youth are attending a Sustainable Development Goals seminar where they will bring a youthful perspective and continue our involvement in that critically important process for the future of our world!




When I think about the international dimension of my ‘evolution’ as a youth worker I am reminded of another great moment of recognition in my career: the moment when my application was accepted to participate in the 3D Training of Trainers. Essentially this acceptance said to me, “we would like to endorse what you are doing at local level but you really need to check out this whole other world of Youth Work out there across Europe!” And so Arturas and Mark introduced us to the concept of Non Formal Learning and this unique role of Youth Work Trainer!

For just over ten years I have been weaving these threads into my youth work existence. One thread has been my development as an International trainer and being supported by Léargas who took this locally-based youth worker and made an investment in my growth as a trainer. Léargas opened a gateway for me into the European field of youth work, and beyond this gateway lay opportunities for me as a trainer but also as a youth worker and so also for the young people I’ve worked with over these years. One of the current trendy topics in the world of work is CPD (Continuous Professional Development) but I’ve been getting this on the European stage for ten years! I have been part of a network of Irish trainers (or rather a wonderful group of my peers and friends) supported by Léargas to: develop training courses for young people and youth workers; attend training events; reflect on our growth as trainers; explore new methods and possibilities; meet and work with international colleagues; set goals for ourselves as trainers; support the the strategic development of international youth work; and ultimately contribute to the conversation about the recognition of the European Youth Work Trainer as a valuable actor in the field of Youth.

So, in terms of importance, the International Dimension has a core place in the complex weave that represents who I am as a youth worker and trainer as well as how that has an impact on my work with young people. In truth, if I were to erase that aspect of my professional growth and all the Youth Initiatives, Youth Exchanges, Seminars, Conferences, EVS hosting and sending, Youth Week, Structured Dialogue, etc. etc. that I’ve been involved with over the years, there would most certainly be a chasm of missed opportunities on all fronts."




"Sometimes I think that the last experience should always be the highlight because it’s the most recent reminder of the positive potential of international youth work. That would be the launch of the new Inclusion and Diversity Strategy where it would probably be fair to say that a particular presentation from an especially inspirational young Irish guy from the Travelling Community reminded every single one of us why we do this work!

Otherwise could it be when three young people from our youth project presented at the EU Youth Conference in Ireland in front of 250 delegates from across the EU? Or when we sent our first EVS volunteer? Or when some of our young leaders did a Junior Training of Trainers? Perhaps it was the European publication in 2014 that recognised our model of youth centre as an example of Best Practice because of how it authentically engaged young people in all aspects of the development and delivery of youth work.

Or, that memorable evening when I sat down with my first group to ever fill in a Youth Initiative application and they heard words like 'disadvantage' for the first time and expressions like 'European Dimension' and the uncomfortable reactions to that and yet the honesty that went into that application… “We have no idea what the ‘European Dimension’ means but we are willing to explore and find out!”. Maybe the highlight was when Léargas sent the letter saying the application was successful and that they would be funded to train as youth leaders and take a proactive role in their own communities?! Or maybe the highlight is that ten years later these same guys come to the launch of the new Phoenix Youth Project!? While some of their own children are at home in bed, they are coming out to show their commitment to supporting something that they know will benefit young people. This is the return we get when we invest in young people.



The ultimate highlight really is when I get to stand back and immerse myself in the positive glow that emanates from young people who have taken an opportunity to explore this European youth work landscape and finally get to share their stories, whether that’s on a couch in a youth centre, at a kitchen table, at a seminar or conference, or even a post on Social Media! Those are my magical moments because I know that they are truly passing the torch to the next adventurers."

Images courtesy of Dermot O'Brien. We welcome contributions to ‘Insights’ at

Find out more about training opportunities through Erasmus+ Youth in Action, or contact the Léargas Youth and Adult Education unit.




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