Katelyn Harrington (11) from Cork city wants everyone to know her best friend Grace O'Brien (12) is "just like everyone else, but funnier".
Grace, who has Down syndrome, is the subject of a 10-page book Katelyn has written, titled My Friend Grace. It is up for an Aldi Foróige youth citizenship award on Saturday and has been distributed to Down Syndrome Ireland centres across the land.
The book tells how Grace is “always kind” and sometimes when she and Katelyn are together they “laugh so much that we both fall over”.
Katelyn explains she chose to write about her friend, because although she “has an extra chromosome” and “finds the learning hard sometimes...she is my best friend in the whole world”. The pair met in senior infants, she says and “she is very special to me”.
“Once when we were in the chillout room and we were all meant to see who could stay quietest the longest, she farted so loud and made everyone laugh and none of us won...When teacher is correcting or doing work Grace says funny stuff to make everybody laugh.”
This is the 50th year of the youth citizenship awards, first run by Foróige in 1969, in which young people across Ireland are celebrated for projects that are a "force for good" in their communities.
Among the issues tackled by the young people are homelessness, bullying, global warming, mental health, animal welfare and the environment.
Katelyn wanted to do something for her Foróige citizenship entry that would both increase awareness of Down syndrome and how people with the condition “are just like everyone else” and to honour her friend. She wrote it with her older sister, Vera, and got photographs of Grace to use in the book from Grace’s mother.
She launched the book at their school, Greenmount national school, near Cork city centre.
Among other entries in the "social inclusion" category are a fundraising project for a careroom for teenagers in a local hospice, by the Barnacarroll Foróige club in Co Galway and a project to give children a voice within Tusla, by a group in Donegal.
A project in Ardee, Co Louth, saw young people revamp the garden in a local nursing home while in Bricken Foróige in Co Mayo the group decided to help at the local senior citizens Christmas party. Before the event, the young people gathered and designed candles, ceramic decorations and bunting, and on the night waited on tables and entertained the older people with singing and dancing.
Katelyn says she really enjoyed the project and felt great after doing it.
“I can’t wait for Saturday. We are all going up to Dublin to see the projects. It will be great.”