Change, community, and compassion: The STAND Changemakers Academy Showcase

by | Apr 4, 2024 | EDUCATION, Events

Photo of the changemakers, around 20 people of different ages, races, and genders, standing in a group. Behind them is a red brick wall. They are all cheering and smiling, with some people holding certificates in the air joyfully.

Image: Amanda Marques.

Five months, five modules, 22 participants, and immeasurable experiences of optimism and change.


All of this culminated on Friday 22nd March at STAND’s Changemakers Academy Showcase, a two-hour event which took place in the sun-drenched setting of Richmond Barracks. Over the afternoon, participants of the programme described their action projects to guests, and spoke briefly yet passionately about what prompted them to create change. 


2023-2024 marked the first year of STAND’s Changemakers Academy. Over the past five months, the changemakers have completed five modules covering topics from global issues to design thinking. They also worked in smaller groups alongside Community Partners (Black & Irish, Concern Worldwide, Amnesty International, Slí Waterford, and STAND) to develop action projects.


MC-ing the event was Emer O’Neill, RTÉ presenter, author, and activist. Emer welcomed and introduced the audience before two changemakers performed. Annie Lovisetto sang an original song titled ‘Shades of You,’ which Liam Ó Laoide followed with his lively banjo renditions of ‘The Castle Jig’ and ‘Mouse in the Kitchen.’ 

Emer O’Neill / Annie Lovisetto / Liam Ó Laoide

Images: Erin Kehoe.

After applause and exclamation (“I love a bit of trad!”), Emer had wisdom to impart. “Use your abilities, your talent,” she told the performers and audience, “and don’t let others stand in the way of that.” 


Nina Sachau, Executive Director of STAND, spoke next, describing the Changemakers Academy as “something new, something that harnesses the diversity that has evolved around campuses, and which addresses the needs of this generation, not the generation of 20 years ago.” 


When Suas was founded in 2002, the core programme was international volunteering. From 2002 until 2020, over 1,200 students volunteered as teachers in Zambia, Kenya, and India. However, discourse surrounding international volunteering has shifted, with it being critiqued for having high costs and, in many cases, neo-colonial or exploitative origins.

In 2021, while the volunteering programme was pause due to lockdown, STAND elected to devise a new programme. This became the Changemakers Academy. 

Nina spoke of “moving from sympathy to solidarity,” and the importance of the Changemakers Academy in achieving this goal. Clare Sheppard, who led the Changemakers Academy, spoke after Nina:

“At a time where hopelessness is most acute, these Changemakers have restored my hope in humanity […] their kindness to be with each other in diversity, and desire to learn from each other is what drives me.”


Nina Sachau and Clare Sheppard / Nina Sachau

Images: Erin Kehoe.

Niall Tierney, Irish Aid’s Director for Global Programmes and Global Citizen Education, spoke briefly. Following Tierney, each of the changemakers stood at the podium to tell the story of what first inspired them to create change.

So, what was that turning point? Some changemakers spoke about specific moments, such as attending a vigil for Ashling Murphy (Emily Quinn), seeing the photo of Alan Kurdi (Annie Lovisetto), talking to young girls in an orphanage in Zimbabwe (Elshaddai Mahuda) or working to save the life of an infant (Toheeb Adeyiola). However, others spoke of longer, more gradual journeys. 

For Zimarai Hashimzai, it was growing up in Afghanistan and witnessing the continuous inequalities and offensives within the country that prompted him to pursue studies in sustainability, work with NGOs, and join the Changemakers Academy.  

For Loay Dieck, it was the presence of authoritarian powers and capitalist greed both in the world and his home of Palestine, and the realisation that only collective action could solve these issues. “When we come together, sharing ideas, passions, and resources, that’s when the magic happens,” said Loay. “Take for example our support of Palestine, Congo, Ukraine, and climate injustices everywhere. We do feel the progress – it might be incremental – but every bit of pressure we would put on definitely impacts the powers above us, and authoritarian powers all over the world.”

In the case of Wuraoluwa Ayodele, who founded and runs the Nigerian NGO Women Safe House Sustenance Initiative, the plight of survivors of domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence prompted her to become an activist and changemaker. Wuraoluwa told the impactful story of two women, a mother and daughter, who had both been subjected to child marriage and gender-based violence. “Speaking to Chiribam and her mother made me realise the deep discrimination, patriarchy, and violence that women experience from cultural and religious practices,” she told the audience.

The changemakers giving their speeches.

Images: Erin Kehoe and Amanda Marques.

The changemakers also spoke about what they had learnt and gained from the Changemakers Academy. For Kidest Abebe Desalegne, iit was “strength and determination.” Kimsor Oeng felt that the programme had given him a place to do inner work, and focus on making change through listening deeply to others.

Click here to watch the changemakers’ speeches in full on YouTube.

All the changemakers mentioned the sense of community, empathy, and passion that they had felt over the past five months, and thanked STAND for providing this space. Between speeches, Ella Burkett performed an original song called ‘Every Day,’ with lyrics that celebrated the beauty of being surrounded by community and diversity.

After the final changemaker had spoken, Emer closed out the event, but not before being intercepted by the changemakers, who presented flowers to Clare, Nina, and the other members of STAND.

A banner made up of many black and white images collaged together. Images include protest banners, animals, buildings, and statues.

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