A future leader: Longford girl chosen for Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship

Robin Duke discusses her travels to the United States, and what she learned about social justice

Jessica Thompson

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Jessica Thompson

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jessica.thompson@longfordleader.ie

Robin Duke

16-year-old Robin Duke - a potential future leader in politics

They say young people are the future. If this is the case, then it's important to educate them in worldly matters so that they might one day become the leaders of our society.

That education was certainly given to Longford girl Robin Duke, who lapped it up with immense enthusiasm.

Robin is a member of Comhairle na nÓg and was recently chosen as the first ever young person to represent Ireland at the Benjamin Franklin Fellows Institute in the United States.

The Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship (BFTF) is a unique and exciting program initiated and funded by the US Department of State, and hosted by Wake Forest University.

Every year, a number of young people travel to North Carolina to learn about American culture and politics, and about the opportunities and challenges of civil society.

“It was amazing to be selected as the first Irish representative,” Robin told the Longford Leader last week.

“People from other countries were saying that they were talking to alumni about what to expect and what they would learn, but I had no idea what was going to happen because there was no alumni.

“But I'm so grateful to be the first person to be able to explain it to the next Irish representative.”

As the Irish representative, Robin spent four weeks in the US, where she had a wide range of experiences and attended a number of lectures and classes given by top class professors at the Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

Week one was spent in the dorms of the Wake Forest University.

The representatives attended the prestigious, private university for the week, getting a feel for college life, while also learning about social justice, citizenship and how to effectively engage in a debate.

Week two was spent in Philadelphia, where Robin and her peers went to the Benjamin Franklin Printing Press and the Benjamin Franklin Museum.

The group then went on to Washington, where they enjoyed numerous tours, museums and the fourth of July celebrations.

Week three was spent with a host family in North Carolina, while attending classes, and week four was similar to the first week, with more classes at the university.

“There was a very diverse group of people and everyone had their own kind of situation,” said Robin, who really enjoyed spending the month with likeminded young people.

“Everyone was really informed and really interested in what was happening - nobody was there just for a holiday.

“The whole thing was about bringing people together who were potential future leaders, and developing relationships between potential leaders.

“So if I was - for example - to become the leader of this country, and one of the others became leader of their country, then we'd already have a relationship developed.”

And, Robin says, politics was never really on her radar before this trip, but after learning so much in the States, it's definitely on the cards for her future career.

The 16-year-old is going into Fifth year in Scoil Mhuire, Longford, this September, and hopes to pursue a career in politics later on in life.

It was through Foróige and the Attic House that Robin first got into leadership and social justice.

“I got elected to the national council of Foróige and the board of Foróige noticed me, the way I spoke and the way I voiced my opinion in the groups I'm in,” said Robin.

Also on the agenda as part of the programme were a number of programmes.

“So you could develop projects in groups or on our own. I did one in a group and one on my own,” Robin explained.

Her group project was with representatives from six other countries. The seven young people are hoping to organise a conference in Brussels for young people interested in the EU.

It's the project she's doing on her own that will benefit Longford the most, though.

“I'm trying to set up a mental health organisation in Longford so people in my home can get quick, cheap, real help, before permanent damage comes upon our community,” she said.

“I hope to open it up next year some time and I really want to get The Attic Youth Cafe involved as much as possible.”

Overall the four-week programme has been beneficial for Robin who is brimming with enthusiasm for the future.

“Before I went over there, I never even considered being a politician, but now I feel so different about it,” said a very passionate Robin.

“I have a completely different outlook now. The programme really changed my perspective and showed me that when you speak up, your voice actually is heard, and you can really make a difference in the world.

“It's impacted my whole career options. I'll probably go into politics,” she concluded.