DR RADICA MAHASE
MAYA is 17 and recently became a 2020 Diana Award recipient. This award is given to young people between the ages of nine and 25 throughout the world who are creating positive changes in their communities.
She got her Diana Award for advocating for the creation of opportunities for individuals with autism in TT. She is working with a team to make TT more inclusive of those with special needs. Her team comprises more than 200 youth volunteers and they belong to the Siblings and Friends Network of Support Autism T&T.
The accomplishments of the Siblings and Friends Network is a clear example of what youths can achieve if they are given the opportunities to contribute to our society.
For statistical purposes, the UN defines youth as those between 15 and 24. According to the 2020 CIA World Factbook, young people between 15 and 24 comprise 11.28 per cent of the TT population; there are 136, 275 youths (70,986 male and 65,389 female) in our country.
On August 12, TT celebrates International Youth Day along with the rest of the world. This day, designated by the UN, “gives an opportunity to celebrate and mainstream young people's voices, actions and initiatives, as well as their meaningful, universal and equitable engagement.”
International Youth Day focuses on how we can develop their potential so that they can contribute to all levels of our country’s development. The UN’s focus this year is how to engage youths at a local/community level; national level (formulation of laws, policies, and their implementation); and at the global level.
Here in TT, we do not place enough emphasis on our youth. Often when we focus on youths the focus is on specific ethnic groups and limited to certain geographic areas. resulting in inequitable distribution of resources for youths in general. However, we can encourage youth development throughout the country, regardless of ethnicity, geographic location or class by:
- Creating opportunities for youths to participate at a national level by including youth representation in all policy development and implementation. We need to remember that youths are not just the future, they are also the present so do not exclude them from what is happening in TT in the present.
- Provide safe platforms so that their voices can be heard regularly, not only at sporadic intervals. We can use social media to facilitate this, especially as we are working with a younger generation that is tech-savvy and social-media-active. We can encourage our youths to share their ideas and perspectives on any and every issue using medium that they are familiar with – podcasts, personal blogs, spoken word, art and creative expressions, videos, etc.
- Focus on creation of opportunities for youths to develop their full potential. At present, in TT the unemployment rate amongst the youth population is 8.7 per cent. Unemployment leads to a whole set of social problems. Thus as a nation we have to promote education and employment together. It is frustrating for a young person to spend an average of 16 years studying, attend a tertiary institution, and then be unable to get a job. It is just as frustrating for a young person who has worked hard to develop his/her tech/voc skills but cannot get a job. A young person should not need to have personal and political connections to get a job in TT; there need to be equal access to employment opportunities.
- Recognise those youths who are doing positive work in their communities and at a national level. Too often recognition is based on ethnicity and politics and that should not be the case at all. There needs to be a fair and equitable system in place to reach every single youth, in whatever geographic area, regardless of ethnicity or political affiliation
As TT celebrates International Youth Day, it is my hope that we will really encourage youth engagement at all levels of society. From interacting with the youth volunteers at Support Autism T&T I have recognised that we have a group of young people who are willing and ready to contribute to our country’s development. They are vibrant, empathetic and intelligent and all they need is the encouragement, appreciation and opportunities to show what they are capable of. I salute all the youth volunteers at Support Autism T&T and all the youths of TT. Happy International Youth Day 2020.
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director, Support Autism T&T