DR RADICA MAHASE
RISHI is a volunteer with Support Autism T&T for the past four years. The NGO operates solely on the concept of volunteerism. The idea is that every single activity and event will be conceptualised, planned and executed by volunteers. None of the directors or executive members are paid for the work they put into achieving the vision of the NGO.
Each volunteer participates in whatever way he/she is comfortable. As an executive member Rishi leads various projects. He is a creative decorator and an experienced radio announcer so he usually decorates for and hosts the NGO’s events. As an individual with years of experience in media and promotions he plays a crucial role in building the NGO’s profile over the years.
As TT celebrates International Volunteer Day, I am especially proud and happy to celebrate all the volunteers who selflessly give off their energy and time to advocate for those with autism and to help create opportunities for those with autism in our country. According to the United Nations, International Volunteer Day “is an opportunity for us all to promote volunteerism, encourage governments to support volunteer efforts and recognise volunteer contributions to the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) at local, national and international levels.” It is celebrated every year on December 5 and this year the theme is Volunteer for an Inclusive Future.
This theme is especially appropriate for our NGO as our volunteers commit their energy, time and skills towards creating a more inclusive TT for those with autism. Presently, we have more than 200 registered volunteers ranging from age seven to 25 in addition to a whole group of professionals who help with events, activities, etc. Volunteering has numerous advantages as volunteers develop social interaction and leadership skills and learn to appreciate different abilities though interaction with those with special needs.
Rishi, who also volunteers with two other NGOs noted, “It is said that each individual feels/thinks/acts differently and volunteering with an NGO that deals with children with special needs allows me that avenue to understand their personalities and why they do what they do when they do. Of course there is also that satisfying feeling of knowing that I can help someone somewhere whether it’s a child or a parent. In noting the tremendous impact of volunteering, he stated, “I understand people better. I have learnt so much more about autism. I have a better understanding of the unspoken feelings of children with autism and I can handle situations so much better where they are concerned.
Our youngest volunteer is Bianca. She is only seven years old and already she has been volunteering with us for the past three years. He mother encourages her to volunteer because, “I want my daughter to appreciate every one and I want her to understand that if another child is different, that is OK. I also want her to develop empathy and compassion and one of the best ways to do that is through actual interaction with other children.” Bianca’s mom believes that Bianca is really learning that. “Once we were at the play park and Bianca saw a child who had special needs. She commented that people were staring and she felt that was so mean. I asked her what she thinks the people should do and she replied that they should go up and say hello and that she wanted to go say hello and play with the child. She did that and later in the night she said that she
felt so sad because people don’t understand the kids with special needs and didn’t make an effort to be nice to them.”
When children start volunteering from an early age as Bianca did, they grow up to be more understanding adults. If we are trying to change mentalities/attitudes in TT then we can encourage the younger generation to volunteer whether it’s in their schools, communities, country, etc. Rishi stated, “Volunteering is a nice platform to learn more about people on the whole. People should get involved because the stronger the force the bigger the impact and when we all come together to give off our selves selflessly then we are a force to be reckoned with.
As we celebrate International Volunteer Day, we express gratitude to every single volunteer at Support Autism T&T and at any other organisation. According to Craig Kielburger, founder of WE Charity, “There is strength in numbers, and if we all work together as a team, we can be unstoppable.”
Dr Radica Mahase
Founder/director, Support Autism T&T