OVER two dozen young people aged ten-17 and 18-35 were honoured on Sunday night, when the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service hosted the 26th National Youth Awards at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain.
Among them, rising teen singer Alyssa Joseph and established national sprinter Jereem Richards both won, including the Youth of the Year Award in their respective age categories.
Joseph is the recent winner of junior grand vocalist and junior grand champion awards at the World Championships of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, California. She won eight medals, two trophies and a plaque, representing TT.
Joseph is also an artist, dancer and a co-host of a teen programme on local radio station Isaac 98.1 FM.
Richards, meanwhile, has been a household name for several years. He enjoyed a special year in 2022, however, breaking records at home and at the Commonwealth Games. In England, Richards broke the Games' record while clocking a personal best time of 19.80 seconds, while defended his 2018 200m gold medal.
Richards also anchored TT to a historic men’s 4x400m relay gold with Dwight St Hilliare, Asa Guevara and Machel Cedenio.
Just before the Commonwealth Games, he clocked 19.83 second at the National Open Championships – the fastest recorded on local soil – for an easy gold medal.
At the award ceremony, youths from all walks of life were recognised for their efforts in an array of categories including agriculture, youthful resilience, leadership and advocacy.
Inspirational stories and achievements were abundant but only one nominee's emotive pre-recorded video address left the audience nearly stunned.
Sidara Akalloo, described as "synonymous with resilience," by the hosts, captured the Double Chaconia Award – Youthful Resilience (ten-17), given to someone "who, in the face of exceptional challenges (family circumstances, geographic location, mental and physical health), continues to make an important contribution to society or is an inspirational role model to others."
Newsday published an article highlighting Akalloo's several challenges in relation to complications of cancer, which repeatedly landed her back in hospital. Akalloo lost the use of her legs after being diagnosed last year with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
In her pre-recorded address, Akalloo said, "I was diagnosed with leukaemia when I was ten years old, while preparing to write the SEA examination. I am humbled to have been chosen as a nominee and to be shortlisted for this award...But I believe I was not worthy of it.
"I believe that what I represent deserves it more than I do. I represent all the children (with cancer) in TT – those who have passed and those who are still fighting. They deserve to win.
"Their fighting spirit deserves to win. Our disease is not our destination, and I have made it my life's mission for all ill children around the world to know that our disease is not our end, but just a bump in the road."
Pores raised and it took a couple seconds for the words to set in before practically every one of the roughly 400 people in attendance stood to applaud Akalloo's modest and moving remarks.
Tiajuana Hernandez, a musician, teacher and entrepreneur, won the 18-35 age group equivalent.
"Despite financial struggles, rough environmental conditions and her autoimmune illness, Tiajuana has persevered and completed her music degree at UWI, among other successes," the hosts' profile of Hernandez read. "As a youth ambassador for the Voice of Lupis Foundation, her resilience continues to be an inspiration to many."
Youth of the Year (ten-17): Alyssa Joseph, (18-35): Jereem Richards
Double Chaconia Award for Youthful Resilience (ten-17): Sidara Akalloo, (18-35): Tiajuana Hernandez
Agriculture (ten-17): Danae Roget, (18-35): Jody White
Arts and Culture (ten-17): Alyssa Joseph, (18-35): Joshua Regrello
Creativity in Technological Innovation (18-35): Jude Mark
Entrepreneurship (ten-17): Jafari Gordon, (18-35): Matthaus Wilford
Environment (ten-17): Samaiya Sanchez, (18-35): Katrina Khan-Roberts
Health and Wellness (18-35): Nandani Samuel
Leadership and Advocacy (ten-17): Kyael Sherwyn Sammy, (18-35): Alana Alleyne
Learning and Academia (ten-17): Sanjana Robinson, (18-35): Ajamu Crosby
Service and Humanitarianism (ten-17): Gabriel Phillip Hampton, (18-35): Teocah Dove
Positivity through Social Media (ten-17): Sapna Joseph, (18-35): Andre Giles
Sport (ten-17): Nikoli Blackman, (18-35): Jereem Richards
Technical Vocational Skills (ten-17): Clay Jason Balgaroo, (18-35): Shiva Seepersad
Youth Mentor: Sascha Williams-Goddard
Youth Project Impact (ten-17): Futsal Association of TT, (18-35): Rahul’s Clubhouse
Youth Causes (18-35): Digicel Foundation
Youth Group (ten-17): No Youth Left Behind, (18-35): Mt St George Police Youth Club