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Mainstreaming interculturalism involves an approach that plays itself out across all activities and policy areas of the youth work sector. It involves a review of existing youth practices to determine if cultural diversity has been planned for and embedded in all aspects of your groups’ activities. Mainstreaming interculturalism assumes that the goal of all youth activities should be the integration of diverse cultural groups both within the organisation itself and in the wider community. To achieve this, all staff and volunteers must understand and support interculturalism. In essence, “mainstreaming” interculturalism is about having positive attitudes and values which in turn lead to good practice.

As a society, we have learned to look at all aspects of our servicesin terms of gender and to include people with disabilities.  Interculturalism is about looking at all aspects of your organisationfrom the perspective of all ethnic and cultural communities - essentially adopting a cultural lens to examine how young people from these communities will be affected by your work- and taking appropriate action. This will be evidenced by applying the best practices outlined in this resource in the most appropriate and effective way for your particular group.

Good Practice in Mainstreaming Interculturalism…

In an intercultural youth organisation, all young people will feel like they belong and they matter for who they are. The young people’s cultural and religious practices – including those of the majority culture - will be understood and acknowledged in a way that is natural for all. Acknowledging and valuing everyone’s cultural identity is important and subtle gestures can be very positive, such as celebrating festivals or ensuring appropriate foods are provided according to cultural or religious practices within the group.


However, we must remember that all people are individuals irrespective of cultural identity. People who share a common language, religion or background are not automatically alike or have the same needs.  Many young people do not like to be singled out or made to be an example for their cultural group. Your organisation should not make an issue of or draw unwanted attention to cultures of origin. As in youth work generally, you must treat every young person for themselves.

“For us it was never a question of why (include these young Travellers) it was always a question of why not? That’s how we approached intercultural youth work. To us it was just about applying good youth work principles – meeting young people where they are at”.
(Bishopstown youth worker)

In Bishopstown Youth Project (Ógra Chorcaí) the influence of Traveller culture in the whole group became apparent over time, as the young Travellers excelled in many activities and produced work that reflected their culture. However, when the Bishopstown youth worker had introduced the young Travellers to the group, he chose not to tell the other young people that they were Travellers. The youth worker did however make sure that the activities on offer were of interest to the young Travellers – wood carving and other crafts for example. Meanwhile the youth leader made regular visits to the halting site where the young Travellers lived to make links with the parents and to reassure them about what was happening in the youth group and to invite them to take part in parent and volunteer groups – which some did.

“In time the cultural identity of the young Travellers was made known to the group by the Travellers themselves, when they felt comfortable. One day they were sharing stories with the others and one young lad was telling the group how mad he was to be sent out of class that day and how he had felt picked on, when another young lad spoke out, “wow I thought that only happened to us Travellers. That’s how the others learned the young people were Travellers.”
(Bishopstown youth worker)

Intercultural youth work is about attitude and values.  Putting intercultural attitudes and values into practice meansadopting an approach that reaches across all activities and policy areas of your work.  Reviewing current practice in the light of cultural considerations has led to different responses from different youth work organisations. For example:

  • CastlebarNeighbourhood Youth Project (NYP), Foróige,“Foróige Neighbourhood Youth Project (NYP) Castlebar realised that generally they would have to think more carefully about their use of English in all groups. Participants come from different cultural and national backgrounds with varying levels of English, and so terminology would have to be explained more thoroughly, for instance when discussing sexual health, drugs and alcohol, social skills, personal development and mental health issues. They also devised the ‘Talking Heads’ puppetry project as an art, drama and music project so that it would not rely too much on English language ability but it would hold everyone’s interest and be enjoyable. “

decorative puppet made in a creative workshop

  • Foróige’s response in Blanchardstown was to develop an Intercultural Strategy that would first be rolled out in Blanchardstown and Tallaght (Dublin) and would later roll out across to all Foróigegroups in the country – thus matching practice to policy for a more sustainable approach to intercultural youth work.
  • SPARK (Youth Work Ireland Galway) work with asylum seekers and refugees and they find it difficult that their work is done in isolation from a legal process over which they have little influence or control. SPARK has also found that at community level, racism is still pervasive. The SPARK project works collaboratively with many local services to overcome these barriers.Mainstreaming interculturalism is about everyone in a community working holistically and collaboratively together. As a result, the more embedded interculturalism is in one’s own practice, the more it will become part of other organisations’ processes.  Many youth groups have challenged and changed other services within the wider community by their positive practices.

“Through the Community projects is the best way to integrate… Not really through workshops or talking but to bring the people together and do something positive together”...”There’s an increasingly positive image of immigrants in the local community, especially through projects like the Polish group working for free in renovating houses”.
(Localise Development Officer)

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of mainstreaming intercultural youth work is the effect the work has on the wider community. All of the groups we interviewed spoke very positively about the effect that they had on their communities through their work in improving cultural awareness and understanding. For many, having a specific project with a public focus like ‘Talking Heads’ puppetry project or Bishopstown Youth Project allowed the wider community to see the work and to reassert the positive influence of young people from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The VEC tutors that worked on the Bishopstown youth project facilitated a number of shows that were seen around the community. There were also exhibitions of their work in the area – at a local library and in Wilton Park House. Castlebar NYP worked with bodies such as Mayo Intercultural Action and later with NYCI (National Youth Council of Ireland) who were able to use the learning from the ‘Talking Heads’ project to further promote widespread intercultural work.  CastlebarNYP Foróige also spoke about the positive energy in a culturally diverse group and the pleasure to be gained from this. They found how important it is ‘not to be afraid to ask questions’ so as to understand and ‘identify the notable differences and similarities between people’. 


young poeple in a parade


“The positive images displayed in the drop-in centre of different countries - especially those which are often portrayed negatively or sensationally in the media - have served to increase the knowledge and awareness of our service-users and has lessened stereotypical views of other countries and their people”. (No.4 drop-in centre GDYS youth worker)

Groupsspoke about cultural awareness and understanding taking place at a local community level, especially between the young people who participate in the wider youth organisation and the young people from minority ethnic or cultural backgrounds.  SPARK noted how the ‘Irish’ group realised how much they have in common with young people from other countries.  The intercultural work at YMCA Cork has been ongoing for some time and they have had the opportunity to take part in a number of public events, including giving talks to teacher training groups and a development education group, taking part in public events such as Mayfield Arts Global Fest and also initiating a new fundraising programme (Euro day) after introducing an African guest to one of their regular groups of young mothers. Their increased profile has even shifted the opinions of Cork County Councillors who now actively promote Ninos club.  Localise, on the other hand, work significantly at community level doing voluntary work, and this has led to other Irish communities initiating contact and asking to be included in new projects.

“Intercultural youth work is worth the investment for the youth work sector. There is lots of potential there. I think that there are a lot of young people from many ethnic backgrounds and they are all equally talented and they can contribute to society.”(Localise Development Officer)

Working in multi-ethnic settings can present challenges for different groups. Some groups have spoken about how they have learnt over time and with experience to respond to the specific needs of groups such as young asylum seekers in VSI (Voluntary Service International), SPARK and Ninos Club in YMCA Cork, and young Travellers (Bishopstown Youth Project). It wasn’t something they felt they needed to know about in detail before doing this work – it involved having the right attitude and asking questions. However, in coming to understand the specific needs of particularly vulnerable young people from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds the issue of the appropriateness of ‘positive action’ has been raised within youth work teams. All of these organisations now promote ‘positive action’ for certain groups. For them, it has meant advocating for the rights of these groups to be treated more favourably, in order to realise equality of outcome with their peers.  SPARK spoke about becoming aware of conflicts at home between parents and young people, particularly those connected to the stresses of the asylum process, cultural conflict, and expectations from the family. This can be very difficult for some of the young people and the need for the stability of a youth group at these times becomes even more crucial. For other groups, challenges also included the need to identify volunteers and staff who would continue this work and the realisation that intercultural work is often poorly resourced.

“They see they have so much in common with people from another country. Sometimes they come to us and they don’t realise – there’s a tendency for people to stick with their own group. And when you open it up a little bit, they realise that they have a lot in common, that they can be friends. They can get over the barrier of judging someone based on pre-conceived ideas that they might have”. (SPARK youth worker)

Additional Resources/Training in mainstreaming Interculturalism:


How would you rate? /How is your organisation doing?

  • Are your staff and volunteers openly committed to interculturalism? YES   NO
  • Does your organisation have:
    • an intercultural policy?  YES   NO
    • an intercultural code of practice? YES   NO
    • an intercultural strategy/implementation plan? YES   NO
  • Does your organisation carry out reviews of your work to identify gaps and make changes? YES /  NO
  • Does your staff have access to ongoing training? YES /  NO
  • Does your organisation network within your community on interculturalism and related issues? YES /  NO
  • Has your organisation taken action on some or all of the 12 steps outlined in this document? YES /  NO

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