Seventy Gaisce gold medals awarded


PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins yesterday presented 70 Gaisce gold medal awards to young adults from across the island of Ireland in recognition of their feats in community involvement, physical recreation, residential projects and adventure journeys.

“It’s a challenge that isn’t for the faint-hearted. To achieve this highly regarded award participants must have set difficult challenges for themselves,” said Mr Higgins.

Since it was established in 1985, Gaisce participants, aged 15-25, have performed six million voluntary hours in their communities over the years. Participants seeking the gold award must be at least 17 and have to earn the honour over a minimum 18-month period.

Because of the challenges they must face, the journey and not the end result often proves the most rewarding. “I have gained such confidence and such self-determination,” said Dubliner Nadine Lattimore.

Ms Lattimore, who is visually impaired, also represented Ireland in the London Paralympics on the shot-put team and has already won silver and bronze awards.

“It’s hard to explain how something can just change your life completely. It started off in transition year just as an achievement award, just something that you add up the hours to. But now it’s like a way of life. It’s kind of who I am. It’s a way of explaining yourself.”

The experiences can also provide a different outlook on the world. For her adventure project, Maria McNulty from Foxford, Co Mayo, spent time rebuilding classrooms in Kenya.

“It was a wonderful experience. I’ve never taught children who were so happy and so enthusiastic about life, even though they really have nothing. They don’t have running water, electricity. Most of them don’t have shoes. They wear rags of clothes to school. That, I found, affected me greatly,” said Ms McNulty.

“We don’t realise how well off we are sometimes, and we have to be grateful, even though at the minute unemployment rates are high and all you hear is talk about the recession.

“But actually we are a lot more well off than a lot of people in the world, and we should try to help those we can.”