My experience at the Foróige Albert Schweitzer Leadership for Life Conference by Stephen Mackessy

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Foróige August 7, 2014

Over the past three years, I have been honoured and had the extreme privilege of attending one of the best youth leadership conferences in the world, the Albert Schweitzer Leadership for Life Conference. This year was my 3rd and final year as I completed the Advanced Module at the 6th Annual ASLFL Conference which ran in Maynooth, Ireland from Monday 28th July to Friday 1st August.

This year saw 250 young, inspirational leaders from across 4 countries (including Ireland, Northern Ireland, U.S.A. and India) gather for one of the best weeks of their lives. Many of these young people were completely new to the Albert family and had no idea what the week held for them, others were back to meet old friends and share stories about where their leadership journeys had led them in the months that had passed since they’d last seen each other.

As one of only 4 delegates from Northern Ireland this year, I went expecting yet another amazing year packed with fun activities, brilliant workshops and inspirational guest speakers. The journey from Belfast to Dublin seemed almost as long as the flight that the American delegates had to go through, and from the start I was filled with adrenaline, excitement and also nerves. Luckily I had the support and company of my fellow delegates and friends, Patrick, Finola and Chloe.

The first day saw all of the delegates register, receive their annual Albert t-shirt (purple this year), schedules for the week and find out what group they were joining. No sooner had we met all our old friends, we were in the main lecture hall of the conference at the Opening Ceremony, jam packed with enthusiastic young teens. As always, the Conference started with a bang, and the one and only Matt McCoy settled any nerves people may have had and hyped everyone for the week ahead. He told us “If you put your all in, you will get so much more in return”.

With this attitude I delved straight into work, knowing in the back of my mind that this would be my last time as a participant and I ought to make every minute count. I can tell you that the Conference didn’t disappoint, from the first workshop to the last and from the team challenge to the novelty Olympics, everything was spectacular! The Culture Night in particular was fantastic and filled with wonderfully talented people, from traditional Irish and Indian dancers, to the moving melodies of singers, guitar and piano players. The hall was a cacophony of noise and each of these amazingly talented people received standing elevations and were greeted with roaring rounds of applause and cheers. All hands in the hall were red raw from all the clapping. One act managed to go one step further than everyone else and raise the bar from an already high standard, and had to one of the most anticipated acts of the night. The reunion of the legendary Dimples and Bailey who performed their dazzling and mesmerising dance act had everyone on their feet throughout, cheering them on. It was a pleasure to be able to watch these two one last time and get to be part of a wonderful moment in time, and this will always be one of my favourite memories of all three conferences.

Throughout the week we were graced with the presence of 4 guest speakers, Elizabeth Healy (Senior Executive Director of The Recording Academy), Chris Okonsky (CEO of KLD Energy Technologies), Dr. Joseph Roche (Astrophysicist at the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin and Mars One Candidate) & Hugo MacNeill (Chairman of the British Irish Association, Chairman of the Irish Chapter of the Worldwide Ireland Funds and Member of the Advisory Board of Institute for British Irish Studies, as well as a former Irish Rugby Player). All of these guest speakers were truly inspirational and have lead fascinating lives, particularly Dr. Joseph Roche who could end up having a one way ticket to Mars. However, one thing that Chris Okonsky said that has kept forcing its way to the surface of my mind is, “…nothing good can come from an opportunity you say no to”. After this he told us how, by saying yes to any opportunity that presents itself, you open the door for the chance of something good happening but if you say no, you close that door immediately and nothing good can come from it. He told us that it was for this reason that he was standing on that stage, talking to us that day. The worst thing that could happen from saying yes is that things don’t go the way you planned them, but we always have to remember that “…we fall so we can learn to pick ourselves back up”.

The Albert Schweitzer Leadership for Life Conference programme has taught me many lessons over the last three years and has helped me in so many incredible ways that I wouldn’t even be able to count them all. Teaching me skills in organisation, time management and obviously leadership helped me have a successful year as Head Boy at Hazelwood Integrated College but it is thanks to this wonderful programme that I now know what I want to do in the future.

It was seeing the impact that Foróige has had on many of the young leaders at the conference that helped me make the decision that I wanted to be a Youth Worker. All the Foróige leaders are people that I can look up to and say that I want to be like them.

The last three years have been amazing and every year I have looked forward to this one week. Throughout my time there I have met some extraordinary people that I am now proud to call my friends. Not only have the brilliant facilitators of Foróige helped me on my leadership journey, but these young inspirational leaders have had a massive impact. While I am saddened that this was my last year, I couldn’t have imagined spending it with a better group of people and I will always know that “If you put your all in, you will get so much more in return”. 

Interested in what the Conference is all about? Watch this video from 2013: