DR RADICA MAHASE
KAILASH SATYARTHI, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2014, said “The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people.”
Anyone who had seen the National Youth Awards held on October 3, 2021, organised by the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service, would agree that the youths of TT do have that “power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage” that Satyarthi speaks of.
This week I take the opportunity to acknowledge the work of youths advocating for inclusion of those with special educational needs and all disabilities in TT, whose work have been recognised during the 25th edition of the National Youth Awards. According to the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service, the National Youth Awards “identifies and celebrates young people aged ten-35 for pursuing excellence and contributing to national development.” Youths were recognised for their work in 23 different categories – sports, music, agriculture, entrepreneurship, leadership, activism, etc.
In a country where we are struggling to create equality of opportunities for those with special educational needs and all disabilities, a country were discrimination and stigma still exist, it is wonderful to see youths standing up and adding their voices to the call for inclusion. Two youths whose work focus on advocacy are Celine Aleah Frederick and Maya Kiriti Nanan.
Frederick is 20 years old and she was shortlisted for the category Youth Leader Student Award (18-35). Frederickis an autism youth ambassador, youth leader and youth influencer. She is heavily involved in volunteering activities in TT; leads her peers in charitable activities through various organisations and has and continues to effect positive changes in society.
Throughout her seven years at San Fernando Central Secondary School, Frederick stood out as a youth leader. She served in various capacities with the Interact Club, all the way up to president; was an executive student council member; house captain of Flamboyant House; head prefect; and head girl. Presently, Frederick pursuing a BA Degree in Education (Special Needs Education) at UTT so he can work with children with autism in the future. She has continued her social work with Rotaract club of San Fernando South and she is vice president of the Siblings and Friends Network.
Frederick said, “The voluntary work that I do allows me to collaborate with other youths throughout the country. I believe we the youths have the power to make a better tomorrow and leave a positive and long-lasting impact in our society. It is vital that I continue advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves, so our country can be fully inclusive, with equitable opportunities to ALL persons. So many people need to be educated and accepting of persons with exceptionalities in TT.”
Nanan, 18, was presented with the award for Youth Leadership: Community Group. In 2015, at age 12, Nanan established the Siblings and Friends Network (the youth arm of Support Autism T&T) to create opportunities for her autistic brother and others with disabilities and to advocate for their inclusion in TT. Nanan trains youth volunteers to interact with individuals with autism/disabilities, their parent/caregivers and the general public and her advocacy has already been recognised internationally – she is a 2020 Diana Award recipient and a member of The Queen's Commonwealth Trust.
Today, the Siblings and Friends Network comprises 350 youth advocates. In pre-covid times the group organised events/ activities throughout TT for those on the autism spectrum. Unable to host any physical events due to covid19 restrictions, the group embarked on a virtual education series on its social media pages – Facebook and Instagram and YouTube.
Using their mobile phones/ devices, they made educational videos on a variety of topics such as art and crafts, storytelling, etc. The videos were easy to follow so that parents and siblings could do the activities with their special ones. In keeping with the idea of creating an inclusive society, they included captions and sign language in their videos. This virtual education series was shortlisted for the category Most Effective Community Youth Project.
Congratulations to all youth advocates for the work they are doing to create an inclusive TT and congratulations to all other youths who were recognised at the National Youth Awards 2021. In the words of William Stargell, professional baseball player, “That’s where the future lies, in the youths of today.”
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T