Photograph: The Rotary Young Citizen Award winners celebrate at Bournemouth. Photo by Stuart Lane, Lane Photography.
The achievements of young people were celebrated this weekend with the Rotary Young Citizen Awards. The project is organised every year by Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) to celebrate the positive citizenship and vital responsibilities assumed by many young people. The winners received their awards from former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq at Rotary’s annual conference in Bournemouth and broadcast on the BBC News Channel.
9 year old Lydia Cross from Braunton had her legs amputated at the age of 2 after contracting meningitis. When she saw photos of wounded soldiers who’d lost their limbs in Afghanistan and Iraq, she decided she wanted to help. So far she has raised £14,000.
Lydia is due to meet the Queen next month at Windsor Castle. When asked where she would be meeting her, Lydia innocently replied, “At her house.” Speaking to Konnie Huq, Lydia inspired the audience with a very simple suggestion, “Raise as much money as you can for any charity that you can.”
18-year-old Rosie Kilburn from Gloucestershire was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer two years ago but despite this has raised thousands of pounds for other young cancer sufferers and fronted a national advertising campaign by The National Young Volunteers Service, to challenge negative stereotypes of youth. She has started up her own charity fundraising business called The Knock-On Effect to raise money to help other cancer sufferers and their families.
Speaking of her illness, Rosie insists she is not a victim: “When I was first diagnosed, people felt sorry for me and I didn’t like those thoughts projected on to me. What I am doing is fighting a huge disease and positive thinking really helps. I want people to look at me and what I am doing. I am surviving.”
Maciej Szukala is a 15-year-old Polish migrant who came to North Wales five years ago and could not speak any English. This was an isolating experience and he was bullied. He is stopping other migrants suffering the same problems and is teaching English to other young migrants at his school in Wrexham. He also helps refugees and migrants in the area working with the Red Cross. He has a long list of achievements including being deputy head boy at Rhosnesni High School, Children’s Commissioner for the UN and Young Enterprise Achiever of the Year for North Wales.
Listening to him speak so confidently on stage, it is hard to believe Maciej ever encountered bullying: “I try to help others to make their lives better. I don’t want people to sit in the corner. Use your skills and do as much as possible. Sometime people are embarrassed. I would say don’t be ashamed of what you are doing, just do it.” Maciej was nominated by the Rotary Club of Wrexham Yale.
18-year-old Luke Dicker from Wiltshire suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD. He was excluded from mainstream school at 15 years old as a direct result of his autistic behaviour and tried to commit suicide. After a year at a specialist school, he has turned his life round and now campaigns for more understanding of these conditions as a public speaker at conferences. Luke also mentors other youngsters with behavioural problems at the school that helped him.
He is passionate about his journey and when asked about receiving the award, Luke was inspirationally humble: “I feel undeserving. Looking at the others who are here today, all I have done is make the best out of a bad situation. I wouldn’t say I do anything, I just sit in a chair and listen to others.”
The Nessie Club is a social inclusion canal-based project based near Runcorn, Halton in Cheshire. Members have so far raised about £25,000 in a year for the “Raising the Roof for Ghana” appeal which aims to build the first children’s computer centre for two thousand pupils in Nkawie, Ghana. Some of the young people have also been out to help build the centre. The Nessie Club was started nine years ago to help youngsters from the most deprived wards in Halton.
When asked how they felt about winning, the group were very humble: “We were shocked, we are very grateful to Rotary who have supported our project. It’s really helping young people to overcome issues.
“When we finished university, we decided to volunteer in a school for four months in Ghana. There was only one text book but the kids were so keen to learn. When we came back, we told the Nessie Club about it and that’s how we started raising funds.”
President of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland, David Fowler, said: “The achievements of these youngsters are lessons to us all. They have all earned their Rotary Young Citizen awards through hard work, selfless actions and by demonstrating that age and adversity need not be obstacles in the pursuit of helping others.
“Rotary is committed to helping young people develop life skills through our many youth opportunities including Young Chef, Young Photographer, Youth Speaks and other competitions. Interact and Rotaract clubs open the door for our younger members to try new experiences and work together on community projects while having fun in the process.
“I am very proud of each and every one of our winners and look forward to hearing about their successes in future.”