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Ailís reached for stars regardless of disability – and urges others to follow

January 7th, 2020 5:05 PM

By Southern Star Team

Scout leader Deirdre Henley from Macroom with Kinsale Girl Guides leader Ailís Ward, who received a gold Gaisce award recently.

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A KINSALE girl guide leader who overcame personal challenges, was one of 77 inspirational young people to be honoured by President Michael D Higgins at a Gaisce Gold ceremony held in Dublin Castle recently.

Ailís Ward, (22) said that she wanted to undertake the challenge because she enjoyed helping people, especially as she had a disability herself in autism and dyspraxia.

‘Things do not come easy to me,’ she said. ‘I wanted to give back to people because the Irish Girl Guides have very much included and encouraged me within Guiding. I have reached for the stars regardless of my background and disability and I hope this inspires other people to do the Gold Gaisce too.’

A member of Irish Girl Guides (IGG) from the age of five, Ailís decided, as part of her community involvement, to become a leader with Kinsale Ladybirds (the branch of IGG for five to seven year olds).

Ailís, who says she has enjoyed every minute of her time with IGG, was delighted to spend the past three years lending a hand with Kinsale Ladybirds.

‘I helped the girls complete the enrolment challenges and then the Discover, Grow and Fly challenges over three years. We did games, outdoor activities, art and crafts. We also did trips to the cottage and worked on a number of badges, including Fire Safety, Bird Watcher and First Aid. By the end of their time in Ladybirds, the girls left the group as confident team-players,’ she said.

For her physical activity, she took up swimming and, for her adventure walk, she hiked 80 kilometres over four days with Kilbrittain Venture Group.

‘I enjoyed this as I had to plan and budget for the walk,” she said. ‘I found the swimming difficult, though, as I suffer from dyspraxia.”

Ailís, who is studying Applied Bioscience in Cork, having recently completed a pharmacy technician’s course at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, chose for her personal skill to work on her creative writing and functional writing. ‘I struggled with the physical writing as there is a lot expected in an English exam,’ she said. ‘My high was staying calm during the exam.’

The highlight of her Gaisce work, however, was helping sick people visiting Lourdes, ensuring their stay was an enjoyable one.

The Gaisce Gold Ceremony was MC’d by the inspirational Sinéad Burke - teacher, writer, broadcaster, fashion-admirer, advocate for disability and former Honorary Ambassador of IGG.

Since his first inauguration in 2011, President Higgins has been a strong supporter of the Gaisce programme. As part of his focus on active citizenship and the promotion of a more inclusive society, the President has paid tribute to Gaisce Awardees for their community work and their support for civil society groups. The Gaisce Award scheme is a direct challenge from the President to all young people to dream big and realise their potential.

Yvonne McKenna, Chief Executive of Gaisce – The President’s Award, said: ‘I heartily congratulate this year’s Gold Awardees who have shown incredible fortitude in achieving their Gaisce Gold Award. Achieving a Gaisce Award is a marker of each Awardee’s determination to realise their ambitions. I hope that in the challenging times which life can often present, they are encouraged by the memory of this moment where all their endeavours were recognised and celebrated. There is a lot more in each of us than one might think.’

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