Children of Courage Awards for four Stratford schoolchildren
On Monday, Stratford Rotary Club held its annual event to celebrate Children of Courage, those admirable young people who stay positive and resilient, no matter what life throws at them.
AT a Stratford hotel this week a group of people was privileged to hear about four schoolchildren with four very different lives, who were all linked by one simple word with a big meaning: courage.
The Children of Courage Awards, organised by Stratford Rotary Club and sponsored by Rohan in Stratford, take place each year and provide a glimpse into the lives of young people who overcome all sorts of obstacles without complaint.
Teachers at four Stratford schools were asked to nominate a pupil for an award, with the winners invited to a lunch with the Rotary club at Double Tree Hilton Hotel in Arden Street.
Guest speaker David Moorcroft, who has been supporting the awards for a number of years, told the Herald it is one of those occasions he wouldn’t like to miss – the children are an inspiration.
He told the audience: “Congratulations to all of the recipients of the awards today and to their teachers and to their parents for celebrating the courage that they have shown and for supporting them.
“Courage is a strange old thing and I think at the moment, when we approach Remembrance Day, we think of the people who fought for this country, and we think of the people in Ukraine and the courage that that nation is showing.”
He added: “It’s a privilege to be here and to share the stories of the courage that you’ve shown and to celebrate I think one of the most important qualities you can have as an individual.”
Among the winners was Harriet Balthazor whose twin brother was born with a life-limiting illness. The Stratford Girls’ Grammar School student works tirelessly to care for Henry, as teacher Liz Stringer explained in an introduction that moved Stratford mayor Cllr Gill Cleeve to tears.
Liz said: “Harriet is a lot of things to a lot of people – a wonderful daughter, a sister to her twin brother Henry and younger brother William, and she is a fantastic friend and a baker of wonderful goodies. But she is also very private and there are few people who know about Harriet’s life outside school.
“Harriet has a severely disabled twin brother to whom she is very close, about whom she worries enormously. Henry was born with end-stage renal failure alongside other serious conditions and his life has been one of constant operations, therapy, a kidney transplant and continuous care in and out of the family home. His prognosis is, unfortunately, not clear.”
She added: “Harriet has learned to cope with all that this entails in the family, physically and mentally. I remember as quite a young child Harriet telling me that her poor brother Henry had spent many birthdays in hospital. I remember turning to her and saying: ‘It’s your birthday too Harriet.’”
Covid brought new issues and worries for the family. Henry’s carers could not visit for fear of spreading the virus and Harriet, along with the family, took over his care.
The worries continued when Harriet was back at school with people testing positive for Covid and Henry was having another medical procedure when she was taking her GSCEs.
Liz added: “Harriet has had the chance to test courage in its many guises. She has embraced the ongoing challenges of caring for her brother and taken time to simply enjoy the relationship that they have.”
She concluded: “Harriet is a true warrior. I have no doubt she will go far.”
Car enthusiast Leon Gentles, of Welcombe Hills School, was another one of the winners, a young man who makes teachers – and his family – proud with his resilience and perseverance.
Teacher Alex Kirk told the audience: “When you meet Leon it will immediately become obvious to you that he is funny, capable and he’s a young adult with a really good work ethic.
“On talking to Leon you will probably realise he already knows more about cars and driving them than anyone with driving licence. The first time I drove Leon anywhere I stalled the car and Leon went: ‘You probably need to find the biting point.’
“What you might not realise until spending more time with him is Leon’s courage and kindness in the face of challenging situations both for himself and his loved ones. He will do what is necessary to help and support those around him and, not only that, he will do it with a smile or a joke.”
Maya Bancil was picking up her award despite being off school to recover from eye surgery.
Her teacher at Stratford-upon-Avon School, Stephanie Murphy, said: “One of the first students I encountered in my first weeks at the school was Maya. Maya stood out straight away as an enthusiastic student who was so determined to do well and make sure she was achieving what she could. What I didn’t know at the time was that Maya has a vision impairment.”
This, Stephanie said, has not prevented her from getting around what is a large school, volunteering and getting stuck in.
“The reason why she’s nominated is that despite all of the obstacles she overcomes every single day, she approaches every single lesson at Stratford High as a fresh start, a chance to achieve and to do the best she can,” she said. “Maya is currently off school at the moment as she recovers from eye surgery and she is still keen to do work and is still emailing and contacting teachers asking what she can do to catch up.
“That true resilience is something I know I take a lot of inspiration from.”
The final award went to George Halstead from King Edward VI School. George was a young child when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and in 2012 had a stem cell transplant.
His condition meant an extended period of isolation when Covid struck, but George, as headmaster Bennet Carr explained, is always positive.
“His positivity comes across in all aspects,” he said. “He’s exceedingly involved in school life, in every aspect you could imagine. He’s an extremely talented golfer – George is not only a national and international champion, and has been invited to represent Great Britain in the Transplant Games in Australia next year, but he is also an extremely hardworking young man with outstanding academic credentials.
“What’s more impressive is that he’s the first person to acknowledge the support he gets from his family or the school itself. Indeed, having spent so much time, as he has, receiving treatment from Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital that he was honoured to speak at the opening their Waterfall House, a new facility for rare diseases, oncology and haematology, for which George has raised money.”
He added: “He is a young man of who the school is immensely proud.”