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Leona O'Neill: Supporting Anti-Bullying Week is important to ensure bullying is stamped out

Being bullied at school can leave a permanent mark on people's lives. That's why it is so important that we support campaigns like Anti-Bullying Week in order to ensure that children don't have to experience such psychological and/or physical trauma, writes Leona O'Neill

Bullying can ruin lives at a young age
Leona O'Neill

A FRIEND of mine was bullied badly at secondary school. They endured an awful ordeal at the hands of another pupil that lasted for a full year, transforming them from a bubbly, happy teen to a withdrawn one.

They are almost 50 years old now and are still impacted by those experiences that shaped their young life. Every aspect of their life was touched by it, from relationships to self-esteem to their career and mental health.

Perhaps those of us who have not experienced bullying to that extent don't realise the profound impact it can have on someone's world. That's why this year's Anti-Bullying Week is so important in starting conversations over the issue to ensure bullying is stamped out.

This year's theme and message is 'One Kind Word' which aims to encourage children and young people across Northern Ireland to speak kindly to others and breaking the cycle of bullying.

Anti-Bullying Week 21 will run all this week and, among other things, will feature a new award for influential local school teachers and staff who have helped eradicate bullying.

Yesterday was Odd Socks Day where students were encouraged to celebrate their uniqueness by donning mismatching socks and events will run all week to help combat bullying.

A host of events including the annual Creative Arts Competition and a new School Staff Award will allow children and their respective places of education to work in unison to celebrate the week.

The School Staff competition is open to both primary and secondary school teachers and staff. It allows pupils to nominate a school staff member they feel has a made a difference in the area of anti-bullying or 'kindness'.

Anti-Bullying Week is coordinated by the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF) and supported by Translink.

Speaking about this year's Anti-Bullying Week, Aoife Nic Colaim, NIABF's Anti-Bullying Co-ordinator, said: "We are delighted to be launching our 16th Anti-Bullying Week in Northern Ireland and look forward to spreading kindness, not just throughout the week-long event but in the wake of it and for years to come.

"This year we've added a new award that will celebrate those working in the school environment who have really supported the anti-bullying movement. Our first ever School Staff Award will allow those who have worked harder than ever to ensure their students get the best pastoral care, to receive the recognition they so truly deserve."

All nominees will receive a certificate and one winner from a primary school and one winner from a secondary school will be chosen by a panel of children and young people during this year's Anti-Bullying Week.

Each of the winners will enjoy an overnight stay with breakfast for two people at Europa Hotel in Belfast, courtesy of Hastings Hotels.

The closing deadline for nominees is Wednesday November 3 and nominations can be made at: nationalchildrensbureau.typeform.com/to/dyUb0HQ1.

Charlene Brooks, chair of NIABF said this year's event promises a jam-packed schedule that will reinforce the theme, One Kind Word.

"Our manifesto for this year is about the simple act of kindness, from small positive statements made from one child to another to acting kindly so that we can ignite a chain reaction that overpowers negativity and instils positivity.

"With our manifesto in mind, we're asking children to ask if someone's OK. Say you're sorry. Just say 'Hey'.

"In a world that can sometimes feel like it's filled with negativity, one kind word can provide a moment of hope. It can be a turning point. It can change someone's perspective. It can change their day. It can change the course of a conversation and break the cycle of bullying.

"Best of all, one kind word leads to another. Kindness fuels kindness. So, from the playground to Parliament, and from our phones to our homes, together, our actions can fire a chain reaction that powers positivity.

"It starts with one kind word. It starts today."

You can access the NIABF End Bullying Now Toolkit at endbullying.org.uk/publications/pc-toolkit/

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