SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

October 27, 2010

Northern Ireland teens let their guard down

SALEM — Ollie Beck's stay on the North Shore has been enlightening.

He is visiting for two weeks as part of a mixed group of 10 Catholic and Protestant teenagers from Northern Ireland who are staying together in Danvers, visiting schools and sights around the North Shore, eating dinner with American families, and more.

"Taken out of the conflict zone all together, it shows there are no real differences between us," said Ollie, 16, who is Catholic.

Ollie and the other youths are here as part of the Friends Forever organization, founded 24 years ago by Danvers resident Bob Raiche, that brings together teens from regions of conflict.

Yesterday, the group visited The Phoenix School, where they worked on craft projects with the students at the small, private school in downtown Salem.

"We first gave them a tour around our school," said Noah Kenney, 11, of Marblehead, who sat at a table with his Phoenix School schoolmates Isabelle Santoro, 9, and Ramon Nunez, 7.

They worked with Rebecca Porter, 17, from Northern Ireland, who answered the students' questions ranging from what school is like, to whether they drink soda in Northern Ireland.

"We hope you come again," Noah said to her.

After their visit to The Phoenix School, the students were slated to eat lunch with the Rotary Club and tour sights in Salem.

Friends Forever's trips involve a two-week stay in and around the North Shore by a group of 10 teens — five Protestants and five Catholics, with an equal number of boys and girls — who, instead of living with American families, live together as a group.

"We've built up a lot of trust in each other," Rebecca said, "and had loads of fun. I've learned things about my own culture and my own life."

Friends Forever runs a similar program bringing Arab and Jewish teens from Israel together on the North Shore.

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