There is unfortunately no blueprint for happiness, but a maxim to think about is ‘create, don’t consume’. Fighting Words is where Dublin’s children and young teens can learn to express themselves, but also get to grips with the tools that make that expression possible.
Numerous studies have indicated that it’s our experiences that give us the most satisfaction and not the things we accumulate. That’s not always easy to remember when faced with the new car purchase that will change our lives, or the dress that makes you look like a better, slimmer version of ourselves but in our hearts we know it’s true.
It’s a message we’d like to pass onto our children but again, it’s a challenge to wrestle the console/device from their hands in an effort to make them do something more rewarding and more fulfilling. And it’s exactly why organisations like Fighting Words are so important. The centre, which is based on Russell Square in Dublin 1, offers free story-writing workshops for primary school-goers, creative writing tutoring for secondary pupils and free week-long summer camps in July and August. There’s a huge appetite for what Fighting Words does, and does brilliantly, and the workshops and summer camps are often booked up well in advance.
Author (and candidate for Greatest Living Dubliner) Roddy Doyle established Fighting Words in 2009. He was partly inspired by his friend, the writer Dave Eggers, who founded 826 Valencia, a non-profit programme to encourage children and young adults in the Mission District, San Francisco, to write. Thousands of Dublin children have come through the doors of Fighting Words; it’s not State-funded and the majority of donations come from private institutions and individuals, with the programme and workshops reliant on volunteer tutors.
It’s about imagination, interaction and exercising the brain in a nurturing environment. A two-hour solo session on Minecraft it isn’t – not that there’s anything wrong with gaming, which sharpens skills like decision making, memory and attention. But creative writing taps into a whole other side of the brain, and gives an emotional outlet and a sense of identity that other activities don’t.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with Fighting Words, you don’t to be a writer, or even a teacher. What they’re looking for are good listeners, who enjoy working with children in a creative environment. There’s no minimum amount of time that has to be dedicated; tutors sign up for the hours and days that suit them.
But as well as words, there are also pictures. In the primary school workshop, attended by 6-12 year olds, they’ll spend two hours writing their very own book, and all the books are illustrated. And whether they’re wordsmiths or budding artists, their sense of achievement and joy in the act of creation is palpable. As Roddy Doyle said: “For these children, writing is important – even to the ones who don’t read a lot. The idea that they’ll have their name on a book means everything to them. Whereas if you put it on the internet, it doesn’t mean anything.”