24 December 2005

Career move for Shankill girl

Belfast Telegraph

Margaret is following the path of peace

By Kathryn Torney
24 December 2005

THE Belfast schoolgirl who made the world sit up and listen when she wrote to Tony Blair pleading for peace in Northern Ireland eight years ago is making a career out of her peace and community work.

Margaret Gibney touched the heart of the Prime Minister when she wrote to him in 1997 as part of a school project when she was just 13.

During a visit to America, Mr Blair referred to her letter in which she wrote that she had only known one year of peace in her whole life. The Shankill Road girl made international headlines when he then invited her to Downing Street.

She went on to meet America's First Lady, Hillary Clinton, became a Unicef young ambassador of peace and delivered Channel 4's alternative Christmas speech to the nation in 1997.

For years afterwards, she kept in touch with Mr Blair and other high-profile political figures like the late Mo Mowlam.

Now aged 21, Margaret works for the Challenge for Youth organisation full-time while studying for a degree in youth and community work part-time.

She said: "It is hard work to work alongside doing a degree but it is what I want to do and I love it.

"I work with young people in communities where they may not have had a lot of opportunities or where they have come into conflict with their community."

Margaret said that her own experiences definitely played a part in her career choice.

"I want to help other young people realise that they can do things outside what other people's expectations are of them," she said.

Margaret, a former pupil of Mount Gilbert Community College and Belfast Royal Academy in Belfast, still lives in the Shankill.

"When I was growing up I always believed that things would change, and they did.

"For all the change that has happened it would just be unimaginable for it ever to go back to the way it was in Northern Ireland.

"Through my work I hope to help young people understand difference rather than fight about it."

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