Driven, socially conscious and eager for change – Nathalie Marquez Courtney meets a group of Young Social Innovators
Eureka: Competition winners (l-r) Clodagh Martin, Clare Bradley and Cliodhna McManus students of Eureka Secondary School, Kells
We wanted to learn about it in school, not online or in a doctor's surgery To know that what we had done could save a life was overwhelming
'It all started when a student came in, wondering about organ donation," explains Clare Bradley, a student at Eureka Secondary School in Kells who worked on this year's winning Young Social Innovators (YSI) project, Bring Organ Donation into Education.
The project aims to educate teenagers about the option of organ donation before they leave secondary school.
"A family friend had passed away and donated his organs. She was wondering what it was all about and didn't really understand it."
This created a lot of discussion in class, and the students discovered that just one classmate held an organ donor card.
"We realised that nobody really knew what this was about, nobody really understood it," Clare recalls, adding, "Neither did our teacher – we were all clueless!"
They decided that this would be the aim of their YSI project.
"If you inform people young, it will just become a done thing," Clare explains, citing a US study that showed that 90pc of people supported organ donation, but only 30pc held organ donor cards.
Her classmate Clodagh Martin found that lack of awareness was a huge issue.
"We conducted surveys, and when we asked young people the vast majority wanted to learn more about it, and wanted to learn about it in school instead of online or in a doctor's surgery."
The YSI group also conducted surveys among the general public to figure out why more people didn't carry organ donor cards.
"90pc of people ticked boxes saying that they didn't know enough about it, or hadn't gotten around to it," Clodagh explains.
The survey also showed that 98pc of respondents believed that secondary schools were the best place to educate people about organ donation.
By the end of the school year, Clare and Clodagh's entire class owned organ donor cards, as well as lots of fellow transition year students.
By this point, however, the YSI group was thinking big.
The students have developed an idea for a teaching pack, one that would equip both teachers and students with all the necessary information about becoming an organ donor.
Earlier this year, they received €1,750 in funding from Young Social Innovator's Den where the students successfully pitched to a panel of 'Dragons' to develop their idea.
This, combined with the €1,500 they won as Young Social Innovators of the Year, will hopefully be enough to turn their dreams of nationwide awareness among students into reality.
The winners had stiff competition.
More than 5,500 young people participated in the Young Social Innovators programme this year, undertaking 350 projects aimed at finding and implementing solutions to social issues.
Cyber-bullying, youth literacy, farm safety and continuing education for teenage parents were among the topics covered.
Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, Chairperson and Co-founder of the Young Social Innovators programme and Anne O'Leary, CEO of Vodafone Ireland, presented the winning students with their awards at a special ceremony following the 12th Young Social Innovators Annual Showcase, which was supported by the Vodafone Ireland Foundation.
Clodagh, Clare and their fellow YSI classmates are now working to create 800 packs that will go to schools all over the country.
The packs will contain teaching notes, student worksheets, and, of course, organ donor cards.
They also plan on interviewing people affected by organ donation – from families who have lost a loved one due to lack of organs to families who have chosen to donate their loved one's organs – and plan to include videos of these interviews in their packs.
"It was seeing the people affected that really got us passionate about this," says Clodagh.
"There was a woman who came in whose son had died and she had donated his organs. She knew people in the class, she's a local woman.
"Her story was so touching; she knew that her son's organs were helping someone else, and that gave her consolation.
"There were people in tears in class," continues Clodagh.
"Even if we had never won; to know that what we had done could potentially save someone's life someday was so overwhelming."
Request an organ donor card by freetexing the word 'DONOR' to 50050 or by visiting www.ika.ie. You can also download the free organ donor ecard iOS or Android app in the App Store or on Google Play. To learn more about the YSI, visit www.young socialinnovators.ie