DR RADICA MAHASE
RAJEEV is 18-years-old while Tiffany is 19-years-old. A few weeks ago both of them were awarded national Additional Scholarships in Natural Sciences. Their outstanding academic achievements ensured that they both got accepted into the MBBS programme at the University of the West Indies, where they are currently enrolled as medical students. The other thing that they have in common is that they are both youth volunteers with Support Autism T&T.
Support Autism T&T is based on the concept of volunteerism and every single person attached to the NGO is a volunteer. The NGO especially welcomes youth volunteers and firmly believes that youth are indeed the future of our country. Currently, there are more than 200 youth volunteers, ages ten to 21, registered with the NGO. There is a waiting list for others who are required to do a mandatory training session before they can volunteer at any of the NGO’s activities. The idea is to train the younger generations to become empathetic leaders who will actively advocate for positive changes for those with autism and other special needs, at all levels in TT. Also, to create opportunities whereby they will have rewarding interactions with those with special needs, so they will grow up understanding, accepting and including everyone. Thus, our society will be more accommodating towards those with special needs in the future.
The youth volunteers are given the opportunity to conceptualise, develop and implement ideas/ activities at all of the NGO’s events. The lessons learnt are invaluable and lifelong. Tiffany noted, “From volunteering, I learnt more respect for those who care for those with different abilities and deeper love for the differences in every single one of us. I understand more than ever that we are all special and equally deserving of love and kindness and joy. I’ve gained some good friends and my interaction skills have greatly improved. I do intend to become a future doctor as I’m currently in my first year of medical school and I hope I can help others as selflessly and lovingly as the volunteers of Support Autism T&T. I would advise teenagers to become volunteers. It’s one of the best decisions you’ll ever make in your life, for it changes your point of view on things and makes you a better and more respectable person of society.”
Rajeev stated that “By volunteering with this group, I benefited in many ways - I was able to help out, build my communication skills and help a good cause, which gave me a sense of pride. I would strongly recommend teens to become volunteers. It would help build them up holistically. I can honestly say it helped me by developing my team work and it acted a as a stress reliever. All teens should volunteer in a group, it would benefit them tremendously.
Generally, there is this belief that the younger generation only sit on their phones/tablets all day and are least interested in what is happening outside of their narrow world. As Alvin Toffler noted, “The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they – at some distant point in the future – will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely… because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.”
Our youth volunteers have shown that they have the power to impact change in our society and we are already seeing their positive impact in our country. As youth advocates they often stand up for those with special needs, they understand that there is a place for everyone in society and most importantly, they appreciate differences in abilities. Too often we underestimate the younger generation but if we create the opportunities for them to develop their potential, give them a chance to prove themselves and more importantly, show them that we believe in them and be the kind of leaders that they can emulate, then they will certainly shine their light very brightly in this world. Tiffany and Rajeev are clear examples of youths shining their light in TT.
Dr Radica Mahase
Founder/Director, Support Autism T&T