LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - In Northern Ireland, cities are almost completely divided by religion limiting the contact people have with each other. Through a special program with ties here in southwest Louisiana, Northern Irish teens are learning to live with and accept everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation.
"The goal is to bring about peace to Northern Ireland because they're different from Ireland" said Co-Founder of the SWLA branch of the Ulster Project, Paula Johnson. "It's a different atmosphere".
An atmosphere ruled by a division of religion. With Catholics on one side and Protestants on the other.
"They have walls in the city that separate Protestant from Catholic town and you usually don't cross over and let a person know you're a Protestant in Catholic town and vice versa" said Johnson.
For one month during the summer, teens from the divided lands of Northern Ireland experience life without the constraints of religious divide and learn to accept and befriend people for who they are through the international Ulster Project.
"They find out they're different but they're often quite a like in the things that they think, the things that they do and the things that happen to them throughout they're life" Johnson said.
12 teens in the project with sites around the country in places like Ohio, Texas and Utah have made southwest Louisiana they're home, living with host families and learning to make lifelong friends with people who may be different than them.
"I have learned that meeting new people isn't as scary as I though it would be" said Northern Irish project participant, Callum O'Donnell.
In the three weeks the teens have been in Louisiana, they've participated in a number of activities, but on Sunday morning they participated in the crust of their journey; A worship service at Lake Charles' Water's Edge Church.
"My church back home would be very orthodox and you know traditional" said Northern Irish project participant, Colin Keys. "So that's why when we were here today it was like a breath of fresh air".
Hearing that was music in the ears of Water's Edge pastor, Tony Bourque.
"One of the reasons we started this church was because I saw that there were so many walls up between the different denominations" said Pastor Bourque. "I didn't want them to go away. I wanted people to be able to worship together".
So that's what they did. Not only the Northern Irish teens taking something away from the experience, but teaching the American hosts a thing or two along the way.
"It's pretty cool how they get to come over here and see how we live" said Ragley resident, Ryan Leger. "Nobody cares about your religion. You go to your church, I'll go to mine and we'll meet up for lunch".
The group will head back home to Northern Ireland on July 26th, but if you'd like a chance to meet the teens and get to know them a little more, they'll be participating in a free Irish-American night at the Henning Memorial Church in Sulphur on July 21st at 7 p.m.