The A-listers of Zeminar equipping Generation Z with the tools to deal with life’s challenges

Visitor numbers are expected to top 20,000 at the second coming of youth well-being and education movement Zeminar, which aims to equip Generation Z with the tools to deal with life’s challenges, writes Clodagh Finn

Ailbhe Muprhy with Olympic medalists Gary and Paul O'Donovan at the launch of Zeminar 2017

ZEMINAR, the well-being and education movement for Generation Z, is shaping up to break records again this year.

In 2016, its inaugural event at the RDS in Dublin brought together more than 14,000 young people, 850 teachers and some 75 speakers, who spoke openly about their teen experiences of bullying, mental health struggles, exam stress, and much more.

This year, Zeminar is back in the RDS from October 10 to 12 and once again, it coincides with global mental health week. That is no accident, as co-founders Damien Clarke and Ian Fitzpatrick hope to equip a generation of 15 to 20-year-olds with the tools to deal with the challenges that life will throw at them.

Olympic heroes Paul and Gary O’Donovan, Rubberbandits artist Blindboy, and teen author Eilís Barrett are just some of the many high-profile speakers who will speak about the
problems they faced in their teens and how they coped with them.

Visitor numbers are already significantly up on last year, with an estimated 20,000 expected at the three-day event.

Damien Clarke said: “We knew there was a demand for a fully inclusive and educational youth event built on a foundation of wellbeing, but even we were surprised by the appetite and feedback, so we’ve moved quickly to extend.”

Damien, a long-standing Foróige Big Brother ambassador, has seen first-hand the issues facing young people.

He is researching the impact of social media on body image among Irish teenage girls in conjunction with Bodywhys, the eating disorders association, as part of a PhD thesis.

However, he and fellow co-founder Ian Fitzpatrick say Generation Z faces a range of problems. Research shows levels of depression, anxiety, and stress in the 12-25 age bracket are up. Alcohol consumption is also increasing but young people’s use of positive coping strategies has fallen. It’s at its lowest level among 14 to 15-year-olds.

Almost 75% of mental health issues emerge between the ages of 15 and 25 and discussing those issues has been shown to reduce distress, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm. The impact one good adult can have is considerable, says Fitzpatrick.

He says one of the reasons he and his colleague have invested so much time and effort, all of it voluntary, in Zeminar, is that as a father of two he is really trying to make a positive impact for the next generation.

“I have many drivers for doing this, including my parents, but one very powerful one is my children,” he says.

“I guess I’m trying to set an example around work ethic; career choices; pursuing what you love and what is in line with your value system. On a more personal note, there’s something I find very amusing about two pre-middle-aged men trying to build something to change the world for young people with a pair of 10-year-old laptops and 85-hour work weeks!”

To get a taste of what’s to come, check out the Z-Series talks on YouTube and Facebook, where well-known sport, entertainment, industry, and science figures talk about their own struggles.

Tickets (€10) are almost sold out, so book soon at or Potential exhibitors can get in touch by emailing

‘Young people can reach their dreams’

The O’Donovan brothers Olympic heroes and credit union ambassadors.

Gary: “I think any event that puts the wellbeing of young people at its centre is important. We’ve seen it ourselves in the rowing club at home, when young people are encouraged and supported, they can really flourish. I think Zeminar is a brilliant resource for them and will give them a positive feel for the future and a sense that they can really achieve their dreams.

“As a teenager, I would have been interested in any of the talks that focus on a balanced approach to life, not just looking after your body but also ensuring you are happy and take time for yourself and are not stressed out. I know, for us, it’s really important that we take some time to balance the full-on training and the tension of the competitions with some down-time and just being with family and friends.

“We’ve given a few talks now for the credit unions and we find that’s the best approach. Overall, we want to inspire young people!”

Paul: “I really like the Zeminar philosophy, that it was created especially for young people and that it only focuses on the issues that matter to them. I think that’s really important, and maybe something that was missing in Ireland until now. We’ve been youth ambassadors for the credit unions this year and we’ve both really enjoyed that experience and found it very fulfilling.”

Youth’s time has come to make change

Sr Stan, social campaigner and founder of several voluntary organisations.

“I’m taking part in Zeminar because it is all about young people. Young people are our greatest resource in Ireland. They are our future. They are the innovators, the enterprisers, thinkers and doers of tomorrow.

I will be speaking about my own life and what I have learned from working with the poor and homeless. How they have taught me so much about myself. They are loud speakers who shout out at us the gross inequalities in this society. If we listen deeply to them, they can change our lives.

I will remind young people that it is not a question of doing great big things. Great big things are fine, but the problem about doing great big things is that the opportunity to do the big thing may never come. What is much more to the point, and much harder, is to do small things and do them well, with heart and – this is the important thing – to do them now. This is their time; their time has come here in this place, in this country, in their community, in their housing estate, in their club, in their street, in their parish, to be active concerned citizens.

I will remind them that if, as young people, they are compassionate and caring and are involved in their local communities, they will be the kind of people in the future who will create a just and fair society, who will challenge inequalities and unequal access to healthcare, housing, education and environment.

When I was young, I would like to have heard of the potential I had to help others in a way that was meaningful and the potential I had to be a changemaker in society.”

Shaking off shame about sex

Anna Keogh: Sexuality educator who thinks it’s time we shook off our shame and talked about sex and sexuality.

“I think it’s really important to speak to young people in a language they can understand, so I will be delivering some fun, relevant sex education facts using a fresh format that hopefully Generation Z will find useful, humorous, and informative.

“Events like Zeminar are so important so that young people can get some factual information in a world where they have an infinite amount of opinions at their fingertips. Real interaction with experts who have the wellbeing of young people at the forefront of their enterprise is really valuable.

“These events are something that you remember as a student. You can have every day in a classroom using the same learning format and none of it can go in, if you are not that type of learner. These events are the places where something sparks. An interest is born. A message received.

“I didn’t receive much in the way of relationships and sexuality education at all as a teenager so I could have benefitted from having more information on healthy and unhealthy relationships, as well as some factual information with regard to sexual activity. We didn’t have a clue, even though we thought we knew everything!

“Discovery is half the fun, but it would have been nice to be told that it’s ok not to know everything.”

‘Embrace your insecurities’

Ellen Keane: Paralympic swimming medallist at Rio 2016.

“Embrace your insecurities. What makes you different is what makes you remarkable. Use it to make a difference.

As a teenager, I would have liked someone to tell me to stop hiding who you are because that makes you miserable. Zeminar is an opportunity for young people to learn more about mental health from listening to other people’s experiences. This is a chance for me, not only as a person with a disability, but as a person who struggled with their appearance for the majority of their life to share my story about how I overcame this. It’s something I could’ve done with when I was younger and I hope that I might be able to change at least one person’s life.

Young people have so much exposure through media and social media that can impact their perception of what is ‘normal’ or ‘perfect’. It is unrealistic because there is no such thing as perfect. If there is something they can’t change about themselves or don’t like about themselves, they become insecure. This is what happened to me and the minute I accepted myself for who I was, I became I much happier person.”

Tree speech and conspiracy theories

Blindboy Boatclub: Artist and one half of comedy duo The Rubberbandits.

“There’s a tree in the Burren, Co Clare, where I go when I feel like I need direction in my life. I shout my worries into the trunk of this tree, until it gives me an answer. It told me I needed to take part in Zeminar. Here I am. Zeminar is important because I can say good words that come out of my mouth. Then the words go into the audience’s heads. And they can then ask themselves introspective questions based on the quality of my words.

“As a teenager, I would like to have heard Nirvana if Kurt Cobain had never died and all his new songs were about Junior Cert history. The Norman invasion, Silken Thomas, Erskine Childers. That type of stuff.

“At Zeminar, I’ll be talking mostly 9/11 conspiracy theories.”

‘Teenagers are naturally innovative’

Eilís Barrett: Teen author whose second book Genesis, the sequel to Oasis, was published last month.

“The minute I heard about Zeminar, I wanted to take part! It’s such an exciting concept to me. I love innovators and risk-takers, people who are really living their lives on their terms. That’s the kind of life I want to live, and those are the people I try to surround myself with. I think Zeminar’s the perfect place to do that, and I’m ready to be inspired by everyone attending.

I think teenagers of this generation have a naturally innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, and I love that Zeminar has seen that and responded with a wealth of opportunity. A single word, or a single conversation, or a single person at the right time in your life can inspire you to go after what really matters to you, and end up changing your life for the better. I think Zeminar is where all of those things come together in one place. The catalyst effect of that could be astronomical.

What I heard as a teenager, at least from my family, was that nothing was impossible, and that I have the kind of fight in me that gives me the ability to overcome any obstacle I come across. I think everyone has that fight in them, sometimes they just need to be reminded.

Once you overcome yourself, you can overcome your circumstances. People say that they don’t do what they’re really passionate about because they don’t have the time, or the money, or they have too many responsibilities. Really, it’s just because they’re afraid. Once you beat fear you can beat anything else, and that’s what I hope to instil in everyone I meet.”

‘Stop judging ourselves’

Harry Barry: Doctor with a special interest in anxiety and depression.

“Our young people are our greatest asset in Ireland. They are first to admit that mental health challenges are one of the commonest difficulties they face, especially anxiety. I would like to impart some simple skills to deal with anxiety, especially panic attacks which are a major problem for many in this age group. We need to arm our young people with skills to deal with anxiety as they face the challenges of life.

Zeminar is a wonderful event bringing together students, teachers and mentors to provide a wealth of practical information and advice in relation to many areas of their young lives.

I would have liked someone to explain to me at an early age in life just how special and unique we all are and how we should stop judging ourselves and others. The real secret to mental health!

I will, hopefully, be able to impart some practical advice on how best to manage anxiety in the form of panic attacks.”


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