Ciarán O Carroll’s activism took him to a refugee camp in Palestine, where he helped run activities for children who had nowhere to play.
© Ciarán O'Carroll
“It’s important to take joy in the victories – when an individual at risk is released or somebody you have campaigned for is taken off death row.”
Ciarán O'Carroll, 23, Ireland
A schoolboy turned his own experience of prejudice into a passion for activism, and travelled the world.
I grew up in an Irish Catholic family in a conservative Protestant town in Scotland. I took little interest in religion, but still faced regular verbal and physical abuse in my school and sports teams. This instilled in me a passion for justice and human rights. I wanted to put these beliefs into action, and volunteered for Amnesty International, Oxfam and Friends of the Earth.
During a peaceful protest at the Copenhagen Climate Change talks in 2009, riot police poured out of vans with batons and dogs, herded us into smaller and smaller areas, and attacked us. I was lucky to be pulled out by three riot police just before the others were told by megaphone that they were under arrest. That arbitrary arrest of 200 peaceful protesters made me realize that activism was going to be a lifelong commitment for me.
In June 2010, I volunteered at New Askar refugee camp outside Nablus in Palestine, which was destitute and dangerous. When the school term ended, there was nothing for the children to do, so they wandered the garbage-filled streets and played in rocket craters. I worked with an international team running daily activities, including sports, language lessons and music, in a safe environment inside the refugee camp.
Activism has allowed me to meet really amazing people. When I was terribly ill in Palestine, lying on a school floor unable to move, my fellow activists took care of me like I was a close family member. My family is nervous when I go away to protests or as a volunteer, but they constantly send messages of support and are happy to endure the slide shows when I get back.
The main challenge of being an activist is in your own head: fear of going into the unknown. I even get nervous about asking people to sign petitions on a busy street because someone might disagree and get angry. But it’s all worthwhile when you come back with hundreds of signatures.
It’s important to take joy in the victories – when an individual at risk is released or somebody you have campaigned for is taken off death row.
Amnesty International Ireland: www.amnesty.ie