Belfast Telegraph

The pupils focused on making life better for everyone

Self-harming, body image, mental health and attitudes to being gay... the problems tackled by young social innovators

By Rebecca Black

Meet the kids from both north and south of the border who are actively changing stereotypes in their schools. Passionate about a range of the most challenging issues in society – from body image, preventing self-harm, mental health, how young gay people are treated, to organising a sports day for disabled children and raising money to buy a defibrillator for their school – they truly are making a difference. Their efforts were recognised at Belfast City Hall yesterday, where they presented their projects to their peers, Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir and Education Minister John O'Dowd in the Young Social Innovators Speak Out event organised by Northern Ireland Youth.

1. Nicole Dallat (17), Laurie Beth O'Halloran (18) and Katrina Smyth (19) from Little Flower High School in north Belfast organised a No Limits sports day for children from Cedar Lodge Special School. They were inspired by one of their teachers, who took part in the World Amputee Games.

"There was football, archery and team-building, just so the kids could get involved," they said.

"This is the second year the event has run; we were inspired by one of our teachers who took part in the World Amputee Games and taught us that there are no limits.

"It made us realise that there are no facilities for disabled people in our area and we wanted to do something about that. It was really rewarding to get involved and get to know some of the kids. The experience has inspired some of our team to go on and work in special needs in the future."

2. Gemma Gough (18), Rachael Trainor (18) and Emma Hamilton (17) from Hazelwood Integrated College set up a Facebook page to promote a health body image. They are also planning a self-esteem class.

"A lot of people are being bullied over how they look," they said.

"We think Facebook is the biggest issue in this. People are getting bullied on Facebook in terms of comments being left on pictures which they post up. We want to talk to some of the people who are being bullied and bring them in for a self-esteem class. We have also set up a Facebook page aimed at promoting confidence."

3.Deaglan McAloran (18), Sean Auld (16) and Anthony Campbell (18) from St Patrick's College Bearnageeha in north Belfast raised money to buy a defibrillator for their school. The Shock Treatment campaign raised £2,600, even more than the £1,300 needed to buy the defibrillator, and the remainder was donated to the St John Ambulance.

"In the school we have had past situations where there has been heart attacks and a death," they said. "There are three students that we know of who have heart conditions, so we decided we wanted to raise money to buy a defibrillator, not just for the school, but also the local community.

"We managed to get local sports team such as Cliftonville Football Club and the Belfast Giants involved in the fundraising and ended up with far more than we needed to buy the defibrillator.It's in the school now and could save someone's life, but we hope it never has to be used."

4. James Bankhead (15) and Sarah Glynne (16) from Foyle College in Londonderry wanted to change people's perception of mental health.

"There is a mental health hospital near us and we noticed that people would refer to it in a derogatory way," they said. "We felt that there is a real negative perception of mental health and it is stigmatised. We interviewed our school counsellor, who told us that everyone will face some sort of mental health issue in their lives. People just don't understand how common it is, especially among young people with exam stresses and pressures around physical perfection."

5. Caitlin Doherty (16) and Amy McLaughlin from St Cecilia's College in Derry are passionate about positive self-image and designed an App to reinforce positive messages. They also have got some positive messages included in their school's morning assembly.

"Magazines shows pictures of celebrities who are airbrushed and say they are perfect, so people feel like they can never live up to that and feel unattractive in comparison," they said. "And those images are not real because they are airbrushed. In our school 80% of people feel like they are not good enough.

"We think everyone is perfect as they are, so we designed an App to reinforce that positive message with happy music and nice quotes. We have also got positive messages included in the morning assembly in school to give everyone a good start to their day."

6. Dillon Curtis (16) and Stephen O'Hanlon (16) from Patrician High School in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, created the 'It's OK to be gay' campaign. They were inspired after attending a Macklemore concert. The lead singer Ben Haggerty is a passionate supporter of gay rights.

"We did some research, which included talking to a man who is gay about the experience of being gay in rural Ireland. We found that gay people are more likely to self-harm," they said.

"We find that people tend to use words like 'gay' and 'faggot' as derogatory words, even if they are not meaning to be anti-gay; like someone saying, "that football match was so gay", when they mean bad. We have created wrist bands to raise awareness of this and put up posters and try and stop people doing that in our school. We have also written a letter to the patron of the school asking for our mission statement to be changed to make it more accepting of gay students."

7. Lara Sweeney (15) and Alicia Trimble (15) from St Columba's Comprehensive School in Glenties, Co Donegal, designed cards to help inform those who are self-harming where they can get help. The Here's Hope, You Can Cope campaign saw cards with the phone numbers of local doctors, support groups, the Samaritans and ChildLine handed out to every person in their school.

"In a survey of our school we found that everyone knew someone who self-harmed, but no one knew where to go to get help," they said. "And two out of 10 teenagers will self-harm at some point, according to our research.

"When people are self-harming they find it very hard to talk to their friends or family about it. So we handed out cards with the phone numbers on them, so if someone needs help they have the information and don't feel like they have been singled out."

8. Paul Brady (17) and James Conachy (16) from Patrician High School in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, organised a Positive Mental Health project.

"Mental health is a growing problem in our area and when people suppress it, it makes it worse," they said. "So we created a project to raise local awareness with a coffee morning, where we invited people from the local area.

"We found that everyone knows someone who has been affected.

"It affects young people but it also becomes more common when people get older, we found."

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