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Local volunteer encourages involvement in child protection scheme

June 6, 2016

A Crossmaglen woman, who has been an active volunteer promoting child protection within schools for the last six years, is encouraging others to consider becoming involved in the initiative.

Ann Donnelly, a retired principal and mother-of-three grown up sons, has been volunteering with the NSPCC’s Speak Out, Stay Safe service, which aims to teach every pupil how to protect themselves from abuse.

The scheme involves trained ChildLine volunteers addressing schoolchildren at assemblies and workshops by assisting them in recognising situations where they may need help and how to access support, and the sessions are sensitively tailored to ensure topics are covered in a way which is age appropriate.

Ann is now appealing for more people to come forward and sign up to deliver the programme in primary schools across her home county of Armagh.

Outlining what’s involved in the programme, she said: “The training is enjoyable and not at all daunting. Other volunteers and the staff at NSPCC put you at ease throughout the training. Initially, there are two days of face to face training, followed by the opportunity to watch the programme being delivered in schools. Then you progress to delivering small sections yourself, being supported all the way by experienced mentors.”

Volunteers do not have to have special skills or qualifications, just a positive, caring attitude, an open mind and a willingness to reach out to children and the adults who care for them, Ann said.

“Volunteering doesn’t take up as much as you might imagine. You can devote as much or as little time as you are able to this vital work. It’s what we do regularly that will make a difference to keeping all children happy and safe. They need the trusted adults in their lives to teach them the vital life skills of speaking out if they have a worry, how to recognise abuse in all its forms and how to quickly access help should they need it,” she added.

Ann began volunteering for the NSPCC when the schools’ programme was in its infancy and catered to primary six and seven pupils. Now, it consists of two assemblies, one for primary 1-4 and the other for primary 5-7, so that the descriptions and advice given can be tailored and made age appropriate.

“Personally, I am so proud to be delivering such an important education programme to pupils. The Speak Out Stay Safe programme empowers children with information at a level which they can easily understand. It enables a child to access help or advice quickly, while reassuring him or her that there is always someone who will listen and help no matter how big or how small their worry is,” Ann said.

“There is nothing more moving than an innocent child trusting you enough to tell you they have a problem and there is nothing more important than teaching a child how to recognise that what might be happening in their life should not be happening to them and they have the right to speak out to stay safe.

“Volunteering is a two way street. It can benefit the volunteer as much as the cause you are supporting. Volunteering gives you a sense of pride and identity as you work in your community and beyond. You can learn new skills and try out new career opportunities without making long term commitments. You can build on skills you already have and use them to benefit people you would otherwise never have met. If you are considering volunteering, don’t stop to think, just do it.  Volunteering has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life.”

To find out more about becoming a volunteer for the NSPCC’s Speak Out, Stay Safe programme, contact Lisa Norris on 07825 118 679 or email lisa.norris@nspcc.org.uk.

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