THE Dalai Lama is to present a teenage fundraiser who spent a summer caring for Jamaican orphans and is now heading to a South African children’s home with a prestigious award for her compassion.
Big-hearted Heather Mann, 17, will be presented with the inaugural Youth Compassion Award from His Holiness on Friday during his visit to Edinburgh in recognition of her altruism and charitable deeds.
The award was open to anyone between the ages of ten and 24 living in Edinburgh and the Lothians who had made a positive difference to their community.
It caps a remarkable month for the former St George’s School for Girls pupil, who was also selected as an Olympic torch bearer last week. But it is her commitment to good causes that has seen her catapulted into the spotlight and singled out for the Compassion Award, run in conjunction with the Evening News.
The Juniper Green resident, who is adopted, began fundraising aged just 12 when she netted £2600 for a schizophrenia charity by wearing pyjamas into Musselburgh town centre and the Capital after discovering her birth mother suffered from the illness.
This feat triggered a desire to help people and she became the Salvation Army’s youngest ever volunteer abroad when she travelled to work at a poverty-hit orphanage in Jamaica.
Of her award, a modest Heather said: “It’s amazing, I really didn’t expect it and don’t really know what to say.
“I get a lot of fulfilment from helping people and when you leave the place you know you have done something good. I went to Jamaica last summer for five weeks at the end of July working at an orphanage run by the Salvation Army.
“It made me sad when I was there but I just got on with it. Leaving the orphange was the most upsetting because I had bonded with the kids.
“I was mainly looking after babies and young boys aged between six and nine years old. Leaving Jamaica left me feeling really sad but it changed my life so much – I’m probably a lot less selfish than I was when I was younger.” Heather will now spend a year volunteering at a children’s home in Durban, South Africa, looking after 170 children.
“I was desperate to do something else and am now going to South Africa with Project Trust to spend a year working in a children’s home,” she said.
She is considering training as a paramedic when she returns from her South African excursion.
Victor Spence, one of the organisers of the Dalai Lama’s visit, said: “This initiative, which came from the Dalai Lama’s office, promotes compassion and altruism which is rarely recognised in the context of an award. His Holiness is the living embodiment of compassion and for anyone to receive recognition from him is a major moment in their lives.”