The schoolgirl raising understanding about young carers
Caoimhe Bennett was one of the 20 finalists in the Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards
2018 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards finalist Caoimhe Bennett, right, from Loreto Grammar School in Omagh, with Andrea McBride, vice-president of Pramerica Systems Ireland, and guest-of-honour Joanne O’Riordan
Caoimhe Bennett is a sixth-year student at Loreto Grammar School in Omagh, Co Tyrone. She is taking A levels in history, religious education and health and social care this year with the aim to study primary-school teaching in St Mary’s College, Belfast.
Outside of school, she cares for her mother who is blind and has diabetes. Every day, she checks her mother’s blood-sugar levels, gives her medicines and prepares all the family meals. She also helps with the local charity Eyespeak. With the Barnardo’s Young Carers Council, Caoimhe produced a short film and booklet highlighting what young carers have to do before and after school. The project aims to get more understanding from teachers if young carers are late for school, don’t have their homework done or seem distracted in class. Some young carers also need access to a phone during the day to check up on dependent family members.
Last month, Caoimhe was one of the 20 finalists in the Pramerica Spirit of the Community Awards. Launched in 2006, these annual awards recognise volunteering among second-level students in the Republic and Northern Ireland. It is managed by the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland and the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals.
1) What is your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement is reaching the finals of the Pramerica Spirit of the Community Awards 2018. I was encouraged to apply for the awards and my school chose me to go forward to the finals.
2) What motivates you in your work and life?
Helping visually-impaired and blind people achieve things through my work with the charity Eyespeak. It’s great to see their reactions and smiles when I’m helping them create their own masterpieces in arts and crafts classes. Most people in the group had sight before so they can see what they want to create in their heads. In school, I’m motivated to do my best because I’d like to become a primary-school teacher.
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3) What do you do to keep mind and body healthy and well?
I take very long walks almost every day. I like the quiet and being on my own. Often, I listen to music on headphones. I also take my mum out to walk on an outdoor track and we go swimming in the local leisure centre. To keep a healthy mind, I take screen free time from the internet and social media.
4) What are the most important factors to maintain a healthy society?
Being friendly and encouraging people to do what they want to do. It’s important not to be afraid to help someone who you see struggling. It shows you are concerned and aware of what’s going on around you.
5) What needs to be done in Ireland to achieve this?
We need to take a more personal approach to helping people with mental-health problems. There were two youth suicides in Omagh in 2017 and, sometimes, I think there isn’t enough follow up with people after they’ve been sent for counselling. We also need to integrate the older generation more into social activities to combat isolation.
6) What do you think is the most pressing health issue in Ireland today?
Mental health problems in young people. They are so prevalent and can be helped so readily.
7) How do you think the Minister for Health needs to tackle this?
I think there should be more education programmes in schools so people understand how to look after their mental health. There are so many organisations now offering support yet people still don’t want to talk about their own mental-health problems.
8) What do you do to relax and unwind?
I love to read. I escape reality when I enter the world of fiction – let me loose in my imagination and I’m flying. I particularly like mystery and ghost stories. I also have a bullet journal to express a more creative side within myself. My bullet journal has my to-do list, a sketchbook, a notebook and diary all in one!
9) What makes you laugh?
Anything really. I laugh when I’m happy and sometimes when I’m nervous.
10) Where would you like to live other than Ireland and why?
I’d like to live in New York. I’ve never been there but my mum has and she talks about it all the time.
Do you know a Health Hero? Every week, we will honour one of the people deserving of the hero tag. If you would like to nominate someone, go to irishtimes.com/healthheroes