Volunteer Spotlight : Manuela

Manuela Ireland

Any of you who have been involved with our After School Clubs this year have probably come across Manuela. Manuela was a huge support to the Solas Project team as a full time intern for the last 5 months. Sadly Manuela has now finished her internship with Solas Project and has returned to Germany. She shares her experience below:

Tell us about yourself… 

My name is Manuela Bauermeister and I am from Germany.  I live in a small town near Berlin. I have been studying social work in Germany for one and half years and my internship with Solas Project is part of my studies to gather experience in the field of social work. But now my time is almost to an end and I will go back to Germany to finish my studies.

Which of Solas Project’s programs are you involved with?

As I was a full-time volunteer at Solas project I had the opportunity to share in almost all programmes. My main work was in the After School programme with the older group. However, I have also helped out in the younger group when necessary and therefore also had insight into this group.

Manuela will be missed for more than her skills in the kitchen...

Manuela could often be found cooking, cleaning …or hiding in the kitchen!

In the mornings I participated in the Reading Support programme in two different schools and I enjoyed going into the schools and reading with the children, this was good experience for me.

I am happy to have worked with Step Up because it was a one-on-one support that suited me well and I really enjoyed it.  I also participated in the Y Not? College Awareness programme which I found very interesting since I am student, and thus encouraged the children. I also visited the sports programme in the primary school, this helped me understand this programme better.

How long have you been volunteering with Solas Project?

I have worked for five months as a full-time volunteer at Solas Project. In September I started and I have worked there until February in the various programmes.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Solas Project?

As mentioned I am studying social work in Germany. The study includes an Internship for the training. I wanted to go abroad and so I had a Skype date with Graham and he told me what they’re doing at Solas Project. Since I myself had no experience with children, I definitely wanted to take this challenge to learn more about it. Also I had never been to Dublin or Ireland and it had worked great and I have no regrets!

Marina (left) and Manuela (right) two of our long term interns

Marina (left) and Manuela (right) two of our long term interns enjoying Christmas time in Dublin

What has been the best part of your experience?

The best part was to be allowed to have been a part of Solas Project. To get an insight on how Solas works and what they stand for.

The children have some tough times and it was great to be there and explain things to them and so prepare them for life, this was one of the most beautiful things I could do.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering?

I would advise everyone to come for a bit and give some free time. You can learn a lot for yourself and gather experience. Life is too short to waste time. I believe what you give yourself one day you get back also. Solas Project needs volunteers because they are a big part of the whole system without them this would not work.


Solas Project Volunteer Spotlight: Emily McVicker

Emily (right) on a Step Up speedboating trip.

Who are you? (where you are from, what you do, etc.)
“From Antrim, Northern Ireland. Studied in Trinity College Dublin. Work Full time PA & Project Admin for Diageo.”

Which of Solas Project’s programmes are you involved with?
“After-School Club on Monday in St. Catherine’s Church with the older primary school kids and STEP UP – mentoring one secondary school student on Monday night.”

How long have you been volunteering with Solas Project?
“Since March 2011.”

Why did you decide to volunteer with Solas Project?
“I wanted to do something in the local community to make a difference and I knew they were looking for volunteers. I firmly believe their vision is admirable and essential and what they do is valuable and effective.”

What has been the best part of your experience?
“Getting to know the kids from the local community, having a better insight into how they live, their needs, interests etc. Seeing progress with the student I mentor and the satisfaction that comes from working with the children/student. Knowing that this small participation on my part will make a difference to their long term opportunities.”

What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering?
“I would tell them that it is rewarding and worth an evening of their week – also great experience for the volunteer in terms of coaching and mentoring skills (STEP UP), community work or educational experience. Also, you get to meet other volunteers and share in this with like-minded people.”

Rugby Blitz Reaches More Than 140 Kids


Solas Project wrapped up one of its biggest events of the year with great success on Tuesday, as more than 140 children from eight local primary schools competed in a tag-rugby blitz at St. Catherine’s Sports Hall. It also happened to be Universal Children’s Day which fitted in quite nicely.

The first of a total of 30 matches began at 9 a.m., and the event finished just after 12 p.m. with a short recap of the day’s lesson (“If I Sow It, I Will Reap It”). The children were all encouraged to complete a worksheet between matches based on the lesson and at the end of the event there was a raffle drawing two correct worksheets, with one boy winner and one girl winner.

“These events are brilliant and we love to run them,” Graham Jones of Solas Project said. “It is so great to see so many children having such fun in a really healthy environment and at the same time learning a vital life lesson that effort leads to reward. It is also very positive to bring so many people under one roof as a reminder that as a community, Dublin 8 is great!”

The event marked the third tag-rugby blitz for Solas Project and was the most highly attended to date.

Outreach through sport is a large part of Solas Project’s mission, with the aim of using outlets like rugby to teach beneficial skills for the pitch and life, such as teamwork, courage, trust, respect, encouragement and positivity.

For more information on Solas Project and all of our programmes, or to make a donation or to find out ways to get involved, please visit http://www.solasproject.ie.

Solas Project Volunteer Spotlight: Sean Maguire


Sean working with the Solas Project After-School Club

The volunteers at Solas Project are the ones who make it all possible. As a way of thanking them and giving others more insight as to what our volunteers do, we are publishing the Volunteer Spotlight on our blog. This week’s spotlight is on Sean Maguire, an American serving as a full-time volunteer for four months:

Who are you?
(where you are from, what you do, etc.)
“My name is Sean Maguire and I am from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, which is right in the middle of the United States. I’m 24 years old and have been in Dublin for nearly three months working with Solas Project. I worked in sports communications at Oklahoma State University for five years before coming to Ireland as a volunteer, and I have six more weeks in Dublin before I head home to start another job in athletics.”

Which of Solas Project’s programmes are you involved with?
“I work with several of the programs because I’m here as a full-time volunteer. I help with both the junior and senior after-school kids’ clubs, as well as all of the sports programmes, prison programmes and the reading support programme.”

How long have you been volunteering with Solas Project?
“I arrived in Dublin on August 25th and have been helping in some capacity since then. I will keep working until I fly home on December 19.”

Why did you decide to volunteer with Solas Project?
“I have always wanted to do full-time volunteer work and this was the perfect time in my life to do it because I had nothing keeping me at home. I spoke with Graham Jones about the organisation via Skype and knew it was something I wanted to help out with. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in as cool a place as Dublin either!”

What has been the best part of your experience?
“Probably just getting to see the smiles on kid’s faces. I know a lot of them are growing up in disadvantaged circumstances and Solas Project is making a big difference in their lives. It also gets me out of my comfort zone a bit and gives me just as much of a chance to grow as it does the kids.”

What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering?
“I would strongly encourage anyone to volunteer in some way. In many cases I think it can be the most effective way to make positive change happen. Giving up some of your time – even an hour a week – can make a dramatic impact on the lives of people, probably most of all on yourself.”

Solas Project Hits National News!

The following article was taken from The Sunday Times on 23 September 2012.

We would like to issue a big thank you to The Sunday Times and reporter Peter O’Reilly for the story about our very own Graham Jones and the work being done through Solas Project’s prison programme.

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Rugby lends itself to teaching the life skills that they are missing’
Graham Jones is reaching out to offenders with his prison rugby programme
Peter O’Reilly

On seeing the assortment of adolescents gathered outside St Patrick’s Institution for young offenders, the initial thought is: Belvedere haven’t sent their strongest team. Gangly limbs, croaking voices, random sportswear.

Of the eight transition year students, three admit that they’re not playing any organised sport at the moment. Yet here they are, to play rugby against 18 and 19-year-olds who’ve been convicted of violent crimes against society.

At least we can be sure that these boys are brave, and curious, and committed to the social justice programme so central to a fee-paying school in Dublin’s inner city.

They are not skipping class. About 40 boys had volunteered to take part. Parents filled out consent forms — though one concerned mother had demanded a guarantee that her boy wouldn’t be stabbed before she would sign.

The boys and their teacher, Mr Colohan, are greeted warmly by Graham Jones, whose unlikely idea it was to set up a rugby programme in St Pat’s — known as the ‘Baby Joy’ because of its proximity to Mountjoy Prison.

Graham is a reassuring presence, a born communicator with a kind, bearded face but also the physical solidity of a former back-rower. After a nod from the prison officer, he takes us through security.

The Institution’s main buildings are part of a Victorian prison complex. As far back as 1985, the Whitaker Committee’s Report of Inquiry into the Penal System condemned it as “an environment that would contribute to further delinquency. . . rather than any rehabilitative function.”

In 2008, the prison chaplains’ annual report characterised St Pat’s as ‘a monument to the failure of the state’.

We are due in B wing, which houses prisoners from Dublin between the ages of 18 and 21, mostly in tiny single cells for 17 hours a day, though some have to double up when capacity is exceeded. Those ‘on protection’ on the third storey are locked up for 23 hours of every day.

The cells are quiet because most of their inhabitants are in the canteen. No accidental timing, this. Last year, the first time Graham brought a team through here, the inmates banged on bars and shouted at the visitors about the fate that awaited them.

Through more security doors, the yard is all tarmac, brick, iron and coils of barbed wire, sealed off by a net, 15 feet high, to prevent illicit deliveries.

Beyond the far wall is a Dickensian red-brick chimney, as if for cinematic effect. But what grabs immediate attention is the opposition, who already occupy the centre of the yard.

They look intimidating, with tight haircuts, long shorts and sleeveless vests, all the better to show off the weight-lifting they’ve been doing in the prison gym (regular gym attendance is what has earned them selection for today’s game). They already have a ball and are passing and kicking it at each other, darting and barking. The Belvo boys shuffle uncertainly while Graham lays out some cones.

Earlier, he had pleaded that the story would not be about him. But without him, there would be no story. He may not be first middle-class south-side lawyer to chuck it all in for a life helping those less fortunate than he, but he is surely the first to use rugby as an agent of hope.

Now in his mid-30s, he is from classic rugby stock — educated in High School, Rathgar, and at UCD, where he qualified in Business and Legal Studies and won his rugby colours.

For seven years, he led a double life of sorts, working in conveyance law in the IFSC during the week, then helping the underprivileged of Dublin 8 through a Saturday club, and setting up a rugby club, the Liberty Saints, in 2006/07.

He had always had an interest in social justice, one he shared with his wife Louise. They had got engaged during one of several outreach programmes he did in Romania. With the collapse of the property market, he sensed an opportunity.

“I worked seven years as a solicitor and there were quite a lot of times when I felt frustrated with never being fully satisfied with how I was spending the majority of my time,” he says. “When conveyancing started to crumble, there was a reason to stop and think, ‘Why am I doing this?’ We had to make some very tough decisions, and I couldn’t have done this without Louise’s backing. People say I’m very brave to do what I do but I don’t consider myself brave at all. It’s a calling.”

Together with a friend, Salla Heron, he set up the Solas Project, to tackle early school leaving and youth crime, using after-school intervention programmes and sport. With three full-time staff, two part-time and about 70 volunteers, they rely on trust funds, government grants and donations.

But at present there is no funding for the prison and probation programme, beyond some welcome assistance from the St Stephen’s Green Trust.

But how rugby? “The two anchors in my own life are family and rugby,” he says. “So many of the skills I have now I learnt through rugby, whether it be teamwork, hard work, keeping your mouth shut, discipline, that whole idea of ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’, pulling together with people. My first love was soccer but I just know that rugby lends itself to teaching certain life skills.

“I see those life skills missing in a lot of young people and because of that they’ll end up in very serious and sad circumstances. I can coach rugby and I’m quite good at it. At the same time I’ve a great heart to reach out to people on the margins of society. I wanted to put those two things together.”

He admits it can be difficult to explain the concept of controlled aggression to kids hardened by violence. Seconds before the start of one game involving the Liberty Saints, the referee took him aside to tell him one of his Saints had a wheel-brace up his sleeve.

But Graham backs his ability to communicate and connect. On arrival at his first training session in St Pat’s, 12 months ago, half of his ‘players’ had their backs to him, sullen and uncooperative. “You’ll last 10 seconds with this lot,” said the assistant governor. Forty-five minutes later, they went back to their cells lathered in sweat.

Last Tuesday, what struck you about the Pat’s lads was their raw energy but also their athletic ability. For the warm-up game, teams are mixed as a gesture towards integration. But for the game proper, it is Belvo v Pat’s in a game of tag rugby — pink tags against yellow. “We’re good at ripping tags from stealing mobile phones,” jokes one of the inmates.

Graham needs a quick wit to handle all the back-chat but never raises his voice. He takes quick breaks to explain the benefit of a flat defensive line, no matter how slow-moving it may be. There are tumbles on the tarmac, grazed knees, but any violence is accidental. Conor, the tallest of the Belvedere boys, gets a bloody lip as an opponent swings at the ball with his foot. A prison officer suggests a stitch in Temple Street Hospital but Conor says no, he’s fine. His dad is a doctor. He just wants to get on with the game.

Final whistle. 7-6 to Pat’s. “Of course we f*****g won! And we’re a f******g institution!” Jones gets the teams to shake hands, then asks the Belvedere boys for their assessment. All positive. “Ah, youse are just saying that to be nice.”

Camaraderie might be too strong a word but there has been a connection. On the way back through B Wing, the hosts show their visitors the inside of a cell — maybe 8ft by 5ft, with a single tiny window and a poster of The Godfather on the wall. Back on the corridor, they point upwards through the steel mesh, mocking, at an inmate ‘on protection’. “There he is. The granny-basher.”

There is tea, sandwiches and Coke in the gym, some chit-chat, but no hanging around. After handshakes, we are through security and back out on the street. The visitors enjoyed their time inside, and ask about the re-match. The teams might be different, says Graham. One of the Pat’s team is due out next Friday.

And what happens then? Graham offers himself as a support, someone to keep in touch with, give advice, help. He reckons 50% will take him up on the offer. He just wishes he had more men to act as mentors.

“The only reason I’m doing this is that there’s a problem with young men getting caught up in crime and victims suffering as a result,” he says.

“It’s repetitive, the same people caught up in the system, and we need to find a solution. There is a great potential in relations being built up with young men while in prison for them then to be supported on the outside, by their choice, not mine.

“An example? One of the young men I hooked up with a year ago got out during the summer and started his work experience in a coffee shop.

He can’t understand that someone is giving this opportunity because it hasn’t happened for him before but he’s moving forward slowly. And there he was yesterday, scrubbing pots in the kitchen with this massive smile on his face. I was blown away by that.”

A Blackrock College team is due to play in B Wing next Wednesday.

More information on Solas Project is available at www.solasproject.ie

Solas Supporters Rally at Sporting Proud Triathlon

Last weekend, Solas Project supporters rallied together in a spectacular fundraising effort at the annual Sporting Proud Triathlon. The 2012 event was held 8 September at Brittas Bay, Co. Wicklow and raised money for both Solas and Orbis (www.orbisireland.ie).

The event was a great success, as more than 300 people came together to compete and raise money and awareness for two wonderful charities. The funds from the event are still coming in with additional sponsorships, but the grand total is going to have an extremely positive impact on both charities.

Supporters gather before the start of the 2012 Sporting Proud Triathlon.

Two contests were held, with athletes opting for either the Olympic or Sprint triathlon. The race could also be done individually or as a team, with one person completing each leg of the race.

For a gallery of photos from photographer Mel Maclaine, click here.

Here are the top finishers:

Olympic Course

Mens Event
1.) Barry Cahill (02:36:29)
2.) David Riche (02:47:22)
3.) David Gillespie (02:49:49)

Womens Event
1.) Avril Whelan (03:34:13)
2.) Nicola Eustace (03:57:13)

Relay Event
1.) Team Ronan O’Sullivan (02:36:45)
2.) Team Mary Kelly (02:57:24)
3.) Team Niall O’Neineachain (03:08:22)

Sprint Course

Mens Event
1.) Jonah Cleg (01:21:39)
2.) Michael Kearin (01:23:18)
3.) Paul Credon (01:23:55)

Womens Event
1.) Aisling Harrison (01:37:37)
1.) Ruth Shanahan (01:37:37)
3.) Lisa Convey (01:39:13)

Relay Event
1.) Team Keith Drum (01:23:41)
2.) Team Gavin Jones (01:28:01)
3.) Team Bernard Casey (01:29:19)

It was a day full of hard work, great weather and great times, finished off with a celebratory barbeque for athletes and spectators.

Be sure to keep an eye out for next year’s Sporting Proud Triathlon, as it is always a great event for a great cause, and keep up with the Solas Project blog and Facebook page to stay aware of more ways you can help!