A teenage girl from Londonderry has given up the chance of birthday presents in order to honour her friend who passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Limavady High School student Leah Whyte passed away earlier this year after a lengthy and brave battle with myelodysplasia - a type of cancer in which the bone marrow does not make enough healthy blood cells. Her strength and attitude in the face of such a terrible illness inspired many across County Londonderry and even further afield, not least her friends and peers.
One such friend, who knew Leah Whyte from the Girls Brigade in Kilfennan decided this month to give up all birthday presents this year and hold a charity barbecue to raise money for three charities close to her heart.
The Waterside girl’s amazing gesture has already raised over £1,000 to be divided between three charities - the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children, CLIC Sargeant for children with cancer and the Anthony Nolan charity for bone marrow transplants.
Leah Rosborough raised the money by asking family and friends to make a donation to charity rather than give her a present for her 14th birthday.
Speaking to the Sentinel, Leah’s mum, Leslie Rosborough said: “When Leah Whyte took sick my daughter back then had said, she would love to do a fundraiser for some charities. At that time it was just a whirlwind with Leah’s illness and stuff so we didn’t get doing anything directly. Unfortunately, we lost Leah then on January 16 so that was horrendous, for everybody. Leah took sick when she was 15 and she just died when she was 16. “How my Leah met her initially was because they both went to the GB (Girl’s Brigade) in Kilfennan. They also went to the YF (Youth Fellowship) in Kilfennan as well and they became good friends.
“Leah Whyte was slightly older than my Leah and she was a really good friend to her. She gave her great support. My daughter came to me and said that for her birthday, she didn’t want to have a ‘birthday party’ but that she would like to do something for Leah instead. Unfortunately then, she passed away but my Leah still had this in her heart. They have grieved and they are still grieving. I said to her there was no way we could do another sponsor sheet because I think everyone is just sponsored out.
“We were busy with a few things for a few months anyway so we said we will get a few things over and then we could decide what we want to do. I said, well why don’t we do a barbecue at the house and invite the parents as well. It was a chance to celebrate Leah’s life and raise a bit of money as well.
“Leah had decided on these charities herself - they were the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice, Clic Sargeant and Anthony Nolan.
“Some of Leah’s friends with the girls’ Brigade came up to help with catering and things like that. They really did come together during everything that Leah Whyte went through. I thought this is lovely.
“Leah Whyte’s Mum and Dad presented the first cup, the Friendship Cup - it’s the first year that they were doing that because last year Leah Whyte was at the Display. Vicki got up and shared a wee bit about her daughter going through the Girl’s Brigade from an early age, right through. Then Roberta, the Girls’ Brigade officer who has been there since what seems to be like forever - she is an amazing woman - she got up and spoke briefly about the girl that she wanted to give it to. She spoke some very lovely words. We were sitting and we didn’t know that it was our Leah, my own daughter, she was talking about. We were all in tears. She said when she heard about this Cup coming she knew straight away who she wanted to give it to. They decided as a group of leaders. She spoke some lovely things about being a friend to others and not being so much in the foreground but quietly being a friend. I was in tears, we were all in tears. I thought it was lovely. It just shows
“If my Leah could carry even some of that mantle that Leah Whyte carried. She was amazing, she really was.”
Speaking about the day itself, Lesley added: “We had an amazing evening and around 120 or more people attended and raised £1081 so far.”
Victoria Whyte, Leah Whyte’s mother, said: “Thankfully we were blessed with good weather. People young and not so young started arriving at the family home shortly after 4pm and most were left by 11pm. There was a steady trickle of people coming and going all evening and food, both savoury and sweet, was in abundance. There were many helpers, including the lovely Ferguson sisters and smiley Ben from New Zealand. There was a bouncy castle and sumo wrestler suits.
“The young people played football and there was face-painting. Later in the evening the young ones toasted marshmallows and sang worship songs around the fire. Leah R’s parents, Owen and Lesley, constantly circulated, welcoming guests as they arrived, ensuring everyone got enough to eat and drink and that no one was left out. Approximately 120 people attended and over a thousand pounds was raised, to be divided between the three charities.”