Caitlin Sheard has a big share of compassion and at 12 years old she already has a clear vision for how she can put it to good use.
Caitlin describes her 9-year-old sister Maia, who has Down syndrome, as cuddly, funny and very cool. Caitlin says she feels privileged to have such a special sister.
"She has taught me to understand things that other people don't. Even people older than me. She has taught me that everyone is different and everyone is special."
Caitlin wants to be a special education needs co-ordinator (Senco), having been inspired by a Senco Maia had a few years ago.
"I wrote her a card telling her how I really wanted to be a Senco and she sent me a letter back. I have it pinned on my wall. It's really nice that she did that. She encouraged me to become a voice for people that don't have one for themselves. That's pretty great."
Caitlin says she really enjoys helping out with Maia and her friends and learning about how they learn.
"I see having a sibling with Down syndrome as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She is the best sister ever. Everyone has little things about them and that's how it is for Maia and the other special-needs kids - they have their own way."
Caitlin plans to be a teacher for three years and then train to be a Senco.
"I am pretty set on that. There are other things on my bucket list too. I would like to write a book, maybe one about Maia."
Caitlin is in the gifted and talented class at Ross Intermediate in Palmerston North. Teacher Keith Butler says she is an extraordinary girl.
"She really impresses me with her spirit and her generosity. I asked her to farewell someone from class the other day and the next thing she is in tears. She has such a big heart."
Caitlin says she seems to be able to see what people feel.
"I like reading to Maia, she loves that and she likes to cook. She is very loving and she is the person in my family that I go to when I need cheering up. She's my sister, I guess, and I just want her to be her own person and be who she is."
- Manawatu Standard
If you had a choice, which would you prefer on Christmas day?Related story: Sun takes a Christmas holiday