Michaela Rafferty

Youth worker, Springboard Opportunities
Nationality: Irish
Living in: Belfast, North of Ireland
Fields of work: human rights, education, peace and conflict, poverty support

“In working for change, courage is a value I hold very high. To create a more equal world, we must first identify the root cause of inequality, and it is often linked to power. When challenging inequality we are often challenging those in power, and it can be daunting.

The organisation I work for is part-funded by a government department responsible for the roll-out of welfare reform that has had a direct negative impact on the young people I work with. I recently took part in an interview where I spoke about a mandatory government employability scheme that is having a detrimental impact on unemployed young people. The interview was broadcast on national TV and across social media. I could have lost my job, as the government department running the scheme also funds the project I work on.

But I was convinced that this message needed to be heard. It took courage to speak out. The young people I work with saw the interview, and now want to share their stories on camera for people to hear, and change to come about. To me, this is activism at its core. ”
— Michaela Rafferty

“I have 12 years of experience in youth work and community development. My undergraduate degree was in community youth work at the University of Ulster. I have been working tirelessly to highlight and find ways to tackle the inequalities young people face on a daily basis.

“Over the course of my career, I have worked internationally in grassroots projects aimed at creating positive change for marginalised communities. I worked on a women’s empowerment project in Tajikistan that helped women develop the skills to create startup businesses, in a country with a high number of female-led households. I developed a youth rights project in the West Bank in Palestine, working with young people from refugee camps to educate them on their rights and capture their stories of life under occupation. I worked in refugee camps across Greece, creating services to cater for the gap in provision for refugees entering Europe. Throughout these experiences, I have found inequalities to be the undercurrent to the issues people face.

“At home in Belfast, most of my work has been with unemployed young adults from either side of the North of Ireland’s community divide. I run personal development training programmes for young people facing barriers to education and employment as a result of poverty, homelessness, drug use and mental health difficulties. I feel strongly that the voices of those most affected by social issues should be at the forefront of developing solutions to them. I am part of a Right to Work: Right to Welfare activist group and a housing campaign group, and recently have started a Youth Right to Welfare group that trains young people on a human rights approach to challenging welfare reform.

“I am a trustee with Refugees Welcome NI. We recruit local host families to provide rooms for destitute asylum seekers and refugees. This doesn’t just provide a practical solution to newcomers who are experiencing homelessness, but also helps foster a welcoming culture that promotes integration and integrity to those seeking asylum.

“As a youth worker and activist, I am committed to creating a platform where the voices of marginalised groups in our society can be heard and real change can be created.”
Michaela Rafferty

Twitter: @MichaelaRaffert

“The young people I work with give me hope every day. Their resilience and determination to get through the toughest of challenges in the hope that things will get better gives me the ability to believe that the next generation will ensure that positive change is coming, because they are creating it.”
— Michaela Rafferty