Tuesday 12 December 2017

'I make my own toothpaste too' - Meet the 13-year-old Irish girl who is getting ready to take over the world

Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

"Oh I also make my own toothpaste" was perhaps the phrase that made me realise I was interviewing someone who will change the world.

Here I was, speaking to a young teenage girl, who had probably accomplished more in her short life than I ever thought to set my mind to.

Alicia Premkumar is definitely not your ordinary 13-year-old girl - and you will certainly not find her wandering the fields of Carlow looking for Pokemon.

A recognised environmentalist, a book cover designer, a documentary star, a radio regular, a music theatre performer, an award-winning student, an entrepeneur. And well-spoken and polite to boot. This girl can do no wrong, it seems.

It all started when she was just four years old, mum Carole tells me, as she insisted on picking up leaves on the way to school to show her classmates.

"I used to do that too," I hear you shout. Ah, but did you then catalogue them and display them on the nature table in a effort to share your knowledge? Did you combine your love of science and nature to give talks to your tiny peers? And did this mark the beginning of your environmental studies for the best part of the next decade? Well then.

At the age of nine, Alicia set up a group in her primary school in Carlow town called Planet Pals with the motto "No matter how small you are, we can all make a difference".

Through school visits, presentations, competitions and flashmobs, Planet Pals spread its 'green word' and collected high-profile supporters such as President Micheal D Higgins, the Green Party's Eamon Ryan, Met Eireann's Evelyn Cusack and marine biologist Kealan Doyle.

The little girl from Scoil Mhuire gan Smal went on to win the Young Environmentalist of the Year in the super junior category and free electricity for her school for 12 months in a competition run on RTE's 'Mooney Goes Wild'.

"We are the next generation, we are going to be our future," Alicia tells me with a ferocity I only remember having when it came to negotiating a curfew.

Planet Pals now has an outreach of almost 120,000 people and has reached the shores of countries such as Spain, Germany, Australia, the UK, US/Canada - and, most recently, the Middle East.

Alicia spent a large part of this summer travelling to London and Qatar, in her quest to make Planet Pals global, and recording inspirational video bites as part of the project's campaigning drive.

Read more: Schoolgirl commemorates 400th anniversary of local historical figure with memorial plaque

But do not think for a second that this impressive project takes up all of Alicia's time. Something I quickly realise as she rattles of a myriad of accolades for performance, history and maths.

"I do musical theatre - that performance side of things is helpful when it comes to using puppets and arranging flashmobs in the schools as part of raising awareness," she says.

"I have three gold medals from the Irish Board of Speech & Drama and a distinction in the London Trinity exams.

"I also won the 2016 North Kildare Irish Board of Speech & Drama National Championships in musical theatre".

Surely all this extra curricular activity would have some sort of impact on Alicia's academic performance? Not a chance. Now an A student in St Leos College in Carlow, Alicia was the only first year in her school to be the recipients of a maths scholarship.

"Maths, science and music are my favourite subjects," Alicia gushes. "Oh and I love art too". You guessed it - she's won something for that too - the overall prize in the 'Design A Book Cover' competition with O'Brien press three years ago.

Alicia's research on one of Ireland's most successful scientists John Tyndall resulted in her adding the national schools history trophy to her mantlepiece. Not only did the subsequent essay get published in Carloviana, the journal published by Carlow Historical and Archaeological society, but secured her an invite she was invite to Trinity College where she presented the piece to the Provost, Patrick Prendergast.

Another work of research, published in 'Decies' The Journal of Waterford Historical and Archeological Society last November,

Former president Mary Robinson once wrote a letter of support for Planet Pals saying that "it is important we have leaders like you to amplify the climate justice message".  Alicia Premkumar leads by example in pretty much everything she does.

Even if she makes me think I've wasted my life, I want her on my team.

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