DR RADICA MAHASE
VAANI is a 20-year-old student at the University of the West Indies. She has been a volunteer at Support Autism T&T from its very first event six years ago.
As Vaani noted, “I was always a very reserved teenager. But then my aunty started Support Autism T&T and I became involved in the NGO. My cousin Rahul has autism and I grew up around him so I understood him, but when I started attending the NGO’s events, I got the opportunity to interact with many other children with autism. That interaction really changed me. I became more open and empathetic and I felt so happy when I realised that I could make a difference in a person’s life.
"Volunteering also helped me to figure out what I wanted to do in my life, I want to be an art therapist so I started the degree in Education at UTT (The University of TT), with a specialisation in Special Needs Education and I want to go on to specialise in art therapy after.”
On Saturday, TT joined the rest of the world in celebrating International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development. Commonly known an International Volunteers Day (IVD), this day has been celebrated on December 5 every year since it was mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1985. This year’s theme, Together We Can Through Volunteering celebrates the power and potential of volunteerism.
According to the United Nations, it 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.”
Encouraging volunteerism among young people can lead to better individuals and a better society. In a world where we complain that young people are self-absorbed or focused on the wrong things, we can actually help them to develop their potential through volunteerism. Certainly, we cannot go wrong in teaching them to give off themselves selflessly or to become more empathetic young leaders?
Presently, some secondary schools have mandatory community service and the University of the West Indies Faculty of Medical Sciences (some programmes) give points for voluntary work. However, volunteerism should be promoted at a national level through specific programmes by the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service; volunteers should be recognised for their valuable contribution and NGOs should be given support to mobilise and train volunteers.
Chelsi, who is 18 years old and will begin the Bachelor degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Southern Caribbean, Maracas Valley, in January 2021, noted, “I started volunteering with Support Autism T&T when I entered secondary school. I was unaware of the NGO until I met one of my friends that introduced me to it. After attending one event it touched my heart to see all the children so excited to be able to do all the different activities and be out of their homes. From that one interaction I made a decision that I wanted to continue being a part of bringing joy to these special children.”
Chelsi noted the benefit of volunteering, “Before I started volunteering with Support Autism T&T, I was a very quiet child but volunteering gave me a sense of confidence and opened my mind to many things. Personally, I think it is important for young people to volunteer because it gives us a sense of responsibility. Also, it gives us a sense of understanding, make us appreciate what we have and really opens a person’s mind to many more things in life.”
Vaani added, “Every young person should be encouraged to volunteer at whatever level – in their schools, in the churches and temples and communities. It will teach them leadership skills and help them to develop their levels of confidence.”
As we celebrate World Volunteer Day 2020, Support Autism T&T expresses deepest gratitude to the over 250 youth volunteers who are actively advocating for a more inclusive society for individuals with autism and other special needs in our country. As an NGO firmly based on the concept of volunteerism, we recognise their valuable contribution and we are grateful that we get to play a role in positively influencing their lives. We take this opportunity to congratulate them on the excellent work they are doing and we encourage them to continue making TT a more inclusive country. As Kofi Annan said, “If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever.”
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T