Erasmus+ Youth Exchange – Sail Training Ireland

Providing an Anchor:  How Sail Training Ireland and Erasmus+ Supports Young People

Sindy Offer is the Trainee Programme Manager with Sail Training Ireland, a Dublin-based youth development charity. In 2019, they received funding through Léargas for three projects; the first project was a Mobility of Youth Leaders and the second two were Youth Exchange Projects – one focusing on 15 to 17 year-olds and the other on 18 to 30 year-olds. There were 76 participants and youth leaders involved, with a budget of €32,295. Here she chats to us about the impact Erasmus+ Youth Exchange Projects have had on the lives of young people, and why all the most significant learning happens outside one’s comfort zone.

 

“All of our trainees come from all walks of life,” Sindy tells us. “Inclusion is a very big part of what we do.”

And yet despite differing backgrounds and varying abilities, trainees with Sail Training Ireland, which has received funding from Léargas since 2012, create an exceptionally tight-knit community and visibly flourish under the watchful eye of the organisation’s mentors.

Using its funding for youth development projects, Sail Training Ireland offers trainees the opportunity to develop, improve upon and implement a variety of personal and professional skills – a mission which continuously bears fruit for all those involved.

With the sea as the school and the tall ship as the classroom, trainees’ horizons are infinitely broadened through non-formal education, all of which has proven to have had positive impacts in both long and short-term capacities.

From displaying increased confidence and motivation levels to subsequently pursuing degrees in the field, Sail Training Ireland trainees thrive when taken out of their comfort zone. Indeed, it is, as Sindy says, ‘where all the learning happens’.

“We’re very lucky in the sense that what we can do within a six or a ten-day voyage, we see the difference by the end of the voyage. I’m very, very proud to say that we have a number of young people who have progressed – some of which have been on the Erasmus+ programme with us – they’re now in Maritime College studying Nautical Science. “

Every year, Sail Training Ireland runs two voyages funded through Léargas; one for 15 to 17-year-olds and the other for 18 to 30-year-olds. And every year, crew and mentors board the ships armed with the knowledge that each trainee has an abundance of untapped personal and professional potential. Together, over the course of the voyage, they explore and nurture that potential.

“We have 28 trainees, and nine to 11 professional crew on board as well,” Sindy explains. “Within that, we also put three Sail Training Ireland mentors on board, and they run workshops around diversity, encourage discussion about what the young people already know about and explore it even further.”

With inclusion, diversity and personal development playing such pivotal roles in the story of each voyage, Sindy has little trouble remembering one specific trainee for whom the project was particularly impactful.

“One that sticks out in my mind was a young lady who was blind, and she actively participated in every aspect of the voyage and her comment was that she couldn’t believe her mum wouldn’t let her push a trolley around Tesco, but we let her drive the ship.”

Similarly, she recalls another young female trainee who progressed rapidly once Sail Training Ireland mentors identified her specific learning style, and swiftly adapted their teaching style to complement it.

“We had a young lady that suffered very badly with social anxiety disorder,” Sindy remembers. “The first day she was on, even the crew were worried and thought, you know, she’s definitely not going to make this. We were prepared to divert the ship and bring her home.”

“As it happens, we had a particular mentor on board and we had a female captain, and she sat down with her and had a chat with her and said ‘Stay on board tonight, and see how you feel tomorrow. We can always bring you ashore tomorrow.’”

“What it was – she was very much a visual learner, and she sat back that day and she watched, and by day two, the mentor had encouraged her to come out with the ‘Watch’ and become somewhat involved. By day three, she was practically running the show,” Sindy laughs.

Indeed, with mentors playing such a vital role in the trainees’ experience with Sail Training Ireland, it’s perhaps no surprise many trainees seek to put their newly acquired skills to use in the hope they too might have a similar impact on others.

“A lot of the individuals would actually aspire to become a mentor because the mentor has impacted so much on their life… they would aspire to come back and become a mentor and give other young people the opportunity they got.”

From encouraging personal growth and supporting social development to influencing professional goals and impacting career paths, the Sail Training Ireland projects are clearly an all-encompassing learning experience.

However, there is little doubt that friendship is at crux of each voyage. Indeed, it acts as an anchor at a time when many participants might feel at-sea.

“The classic one was the Erasmus+ last year. We had a group of young people who had to go back to Liverpool and I was escorting them, and I went to the ship to collect them that morning and I literally had to prise them apart. The tears! The tears! They didn’t want to leave each other. They got so much out of it,” Sindy recalls.

“The friendships that are developed are literally – when I say life-lasting – I mean it. We’ve had reunion balls for a number of trainees that went out 40 years ago with us, and they’re still friends today.”