Galway student’s initiative for Eating Disorder Awareness: The Sunflower Project

By Caoimhe Looney

Content warning – mentions of eating disorders. The HSE 24 hour helpline number is 1800 111 888,

In Ireland, an estimated 188,895 people will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

The stark figure comes from the Health Service Executives National Clinical Programme for Eating Disorders.

In December 2022, University of Galway student Siobhan Kelleher launched the Sunflower Project.

Her motive behind the project was to spread hope and joy to people in eating disorder in-patient treatment clinics.

Siobhan spent five months in in-patient treatment with an eating disorder, including over the Christmas holidays.

“Having an eating disorder for 5 years, it was something that really affected me, not only physically but also socially and emotionally,” Siobhan said.

“It really does sink in when you’re in there and missing out on all these core life events.

“You realise how much you’ve sacrificed to your eating disorder and how much it has caused you to lose.”

When Siobhan was about a year into recovery she saw the benefits from her time in in-patient treatment.

“I was so beyond grateful and I really wanted other people to experience that. I wanted to do something that was really solidifying.”

“While I’ll always have some kind of difficulty with my eating disorder, I’m establishing that it’s coming from a place of recovery.

“It’s important for young people who are struggling with an eating disorder to see somebody who has gone through that struggle in a very similar way and see that they’re still willing to give back.”

The Sunflower Project

Siobhan had always toyed with the idea of a fundraising project.

She began the project last year by making a Gofundme with the goal of raising €500, and after three days it had raised over €1,000.

“It was so overwhelming initially when I saw the response it had gotten. I was so taken back and so unbelievably grateful.”

The donations helped create self-care hampers for people receiving treatment for eating disorders in Galway over Christmas.

The remaining money was donated to Bodywhys for eating disorder research and treatment.

“It was really such a rewarding experience because I was able to see how doing this one small thing could not only inspire people to ask for help, but it could also show them that there’s still goodness in the world.”

As Siobhan is a musician, this year starting off the fundraising process is Sunflower Sessions, a gig in Aras Na nGael.

“Music is such a central part of my life and it was one of the only things that really helped me in my recovery.”

Tickets are on a donation based policy so people can pay whatever they can afford to pay for them.

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised, contact the HSE 24 hour helpline at 1800 111 888, or the Bodywhys helpline at 0766805278.

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