By Owen Ryan
A CLARE teenager was one of two named as All Ireland Youth Volunteers of the Year at the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards.
Sixteen year old Elysha Ní Chuláin is from Bunratty and is currently a fifth year student at Coláiste Íde in Kerry.
She was honoured for her volunteering activities with Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Hospital in Crumlin and Barretstown Camp in Co Kildare.
At five Elysha was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was hospitalised in Crumlin for ten years. During that time she underwent chemotherapy and several surgeries, which have left her with permanent kidney damage and without sight in one eye.
Speaking on Tuesday she said she was delighted to win the award. “They announced Dayna Ní Shíocháin, the other winner first and I was delighted for her but I was getting a bit worried that I’d be in tears if I didn’t win. When they called out Coláiste Íde I was absolutely delighted, it was brilliant.”
Speaking about the work she has done for Crumlin since leaving the hospital, she said; “It all started when I was in third year. Crumlin asked me to write a story about my life with cancer and living on St John’s ward. When I wrote my story they were so delighted with it and they posted it online. After that Crumlin were asking me to do work for them, speeches and things like that, and then they announced me to be their champion. With being the champion the job was to get schools involved in organising events and giving money towards Crumlin. I was accompanied by Ryan Sheridan the singer who was the celebrity face of the campaign. We just went around to schools talking to classes and sharing ideas on ways they could raise money.”
On her involvement with Barretstown Elysha said; “I was a counsellor there for three or four years and last year the manager there was telling me about the CLP course and I was really interested in that and working in Barretstown and seeing a different side of the camp. He told me that you could be 17 but unfortunately they had changed the age to 18 and I was really disappointed when I got a letter saying I was too young.”
However she was allowed to complete the course and did a good deal of work there subsequently. “I was helping out on a one week course during the summer, helping children from all over the world and helping the other volunteers. My job was to think of games for the children, get their snacks, play games with them, help them clean up their cottages and stuff.
“There were around 20 of us working there and we returned in October and we worked with more campers. We were left alone to make a whole session of games. We got a great insight into how to work with children and how to communicate with them, it was a brilliant opportunity.”
She says she was delighted to be able to give something back. “I was diagnosed with cancer when I was five years old so I’ve been going to Crumlin ever since. Next year will be my last year going as a patient because I’ve been recovering for five years now and the cancer is totally gone which is a great thing but I’m also sad to be leaving Crumlin because it’s kind of my home away from home and they’ve supported me through everything. I always say that Crumlin makes you better but Barretstown kind of cures your hidden scars and it brings your confidence back.
“I was more than happy to do it because I always wanted to repay the smiles that they gave to me. I was more than delighted because they’ve been very close to my heart as I grew up and I’m more than happy to give that help back.”
Elysha is in good health now and even plays rugby. She says that overcoming illness motivates her now. “I’m just as able to function as any other healthy human being so it hasn’t stopped me as such. It kind of keeps me going that I was very sick for ten years, had heart attacks and I was dying at one point, but it keeps me going but I was there and now I’m a perfectly healthy person. It kind of keeps the fire going.”
The two overall winners each received €1,000 for a charity of their choice, a gold medallion and an all-expense paid trip to America to participate in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards ceremony.
The awards were presented by Republic of Ireland soccer manager Martin O’Neill.