The year of the child
Bianca Paun Student, 15
Bianca Paun spent her first five years with her family in a village outside Bucharest, in Romania. She now lives with nine of her 10 brothers and sisters, and her parents, in Kilcock, Co Kildare. One of her sisters, Emmanuel, who is 17, lives nearby with her husband.
“I like it here in Ireland,” Bianca says, in an Irish accent. “The schools are better. In Romania we lived in the countryside. It was very poor.”
The family are Roma. The children sit attentively, beaming for the visitor from Dublin. “I don’t really tell people I’m Roma,” says Bianca. “In my first few days in school, when I was small, I heard some kids saying nasty things about Travellers, saying they always get into trouble, that they steal. I didn’t want them to know I was Roma. People see Roma as bad, as a negative.”
She wants to be part of the Irish community. She likes music and wants to be an architect. In Romania they were forced to live in a Roma community outside the village, as Roma were “not allowed live in the village,” says her father, Marian.
“The schools for the Roma children were no good. I knew there would be no opportunities for the children. I want them to have a better life. Here we don’t tell everyone we are Roma. People have a bad feeling about Roma. It is better if not everyone knows,” he says. “Here [in Kilcock] we have no trouble.” KITTY HOLLAND
Aoife Gregg Maths student, 17
Even by her own exacting standards, Aoife Gregg has had an “amazing year” with her subject. From Harold’s Cross in Dublin, she won the Intel Student award at the BT Young Scientist competition in January, earning her the opportunity to go to Pittsburgh, in the United States, to take part in the International Science and Engineering Fair (Isef) in May.
“My project was called Cryptography: A study of the Irish Language, and it examined the frequency of letters used in the written language, and how that has changed over 1,400 years of written Irish, to find out if you could date documents from the frequency. Irish is one of the oldest written languages.”
She scanned documents into a website that counted the frequency of each letter in the texts. “I found you could get a general idea of the time the document was written.” She had started work on the project in September 2011.
“The Isef fair in May was amazing. It’s the biggest science fair in the world for students, with about 1,500 people, and really interesting.”
Since then Aoife, who is a student at Loreto College on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, has been preparing for the Leaving Cert. “I always get a lot of encouragement from school but, more so through life, from my parents, who always challenge me, have encouraged me to ask questions about the world, how and why it works the way it does.” KITTY HOLLAND
Nicole McCabe Recovering from cancer, 16
Two years ago Nicole McCabe, who lives in Monaghan, was diagnosed with cancer of the lymphatic system, the part of the body’s immune system that helps fight infection.She spent nine months at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.
The treatment was excellent, but she says the facilities for teenagers were appalling. “The biggest problem is that teenagers are inbetweeners. We’re not children or adults, but we have our own needs, very basic ones such as privacy when you’re in hospital.”
Simple things such as using the toilet or getting sick can be acutely embarrassing when all that separates you from groups of visitors is a thin curtain.
“I spent most of my time in the ward with children as young as two, so I had to listen to cartoons all day, and sometimes I couldn’t get a good sleep.”
Although there are play areas for kids, teenagers are forgotten about, Nicole says. There’s no internet access or place to hang out. And as if that isn’t bad enough, there’s also the trauma of dealing with sickness, hair loss and losing your eyebrows and eyelashes.
When she’s not studying, Nicole campaigns to improve facilities at the hospital. Work recently started on a specialist teenage cancer unit.
“I’m back at school now and enjoying life, and doing all the things I missed out on over the past two years,” she says. “I am still fighting for funds for the unit and will do in the future.”
To donate to the new unit, see fixcrumlin.ieor call 1890-507508 CARL O’BRIEN