DR RADICA MAHASE
Almost nine years ago when I started Support Autism T&T, I shared my vision with my very close friends, who joined me on my advocacy journey. While I became the face of the NGO, there are some very formidable women who form its backbone and who have worked consistently over the past years, mostly in the background, to help realise our vision of creating equal access to opportunities for persons diagnosed with autism in TT. Alicia Maraj is one such woman. From the very beginning she has worked tirelessly towards helping build the core values and structure of the organisation. She is one of the NGO’s directors. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I am happy to highlight her thoughts and experiences, as a woman, wife and mother.
"My name is Alicia Maraj and I have been an educator for approximately 22 years. I have taught both primary and secondary school students in TT. For me, it was a great opportunity to teach at both private and public schools because each experience afforded me a chance to interact with many children, all different and special in their own little way.
"It was never my plan to volunteer with any organisation but rather to focus on seasonal charitable works in Big Bay Village, Toco. Together with my husband, Steve Atwaroo and some very close friends, we manage to orchestrate a Christmas drive, every year, for the past 15 years. We would host a fun day for the children which includes traditional games that one would encounter at a school’s bazaar and at the end of it all, Santa would give gifts, party bags and food hampers to the children and their parents. It was always such a joy for us all!
"These fulfilling experiences inspired me to do good deeds throughout the year. I started collecting kids’ clothing, food items, school books and stationery supplies for any child and family who were in need. It did not matter if I knew them or not. I just wanted to do good things for others.
"In my quest to be a positive person in my community, I met like-minded individuals at Support Autism T&T (SATT). With my background as a teacher, I had the experience of working with children on the autism spectrum. That is why, I understood the value of what SATT was offering to individuals with autism and their families. It was only through volunteering with SATT that I saw the extensive challenges that special needs individuals were facing on a daily basis. I gained a deeper understanding of autism through my interactions with the children and their parents. It was no longer at the classroom level but I got to see their entire world; what life was like for them at home. "I got to have dialogue with some of the parents, on a personal level. I grew to understand that life brought deeper challenges for them. Through my interactions with them I started to understand things like everyday mobility, the need for quiet spaces, the deep need for acceptance and understanding by neurotypical people, amongst other things.
"One day, in the not-too-distant future, I want volunteerism to become a cultural norm in TT. It should not be just a selected few helping the marginalised in society, but rather relatives and friends taking positive actions together to create caring communities throughout our nation. Let’s start by taking our children with us to do good deeds together. Let our actions as parents speak volumes to the generation that we are currently nurturing.
"Like every mother, I want my son to become an adult that I am proud of – an adult who treats others with compassion. To ensure that this is his reality, I must demonstrate to him that as a family we are 'big on helping others.' That is why, there isn’t a right/wrong age to become a volunteer. Just start and everything will take its rightful place.
"As a mother, my biggest fear is dying before my son becomes a man – losing the opportunity to create cherished memories with him and for him. When a child loses a parent, it creates a void. One feels that something is always missing. I know, because I lost my father at a very young age. As a woman, my biggest fear is not taking advantage of all the wonderful opportunities to give back to humanity. Giving of your time and resources to others is a good feeling. It makes me feel empowered. I must admit that it can be difficult but, I just do what I can to make my little spot on the globe, a better place.
"As a wife, my fear is not being able to walk life’s road with Steve. Steve and I see each other as a team, along with our son, Lucantoni. Therefore, the aim is to ensure that our support system never fails. It is not always 50-50, sometimes it is 70-30, sometimes 60-40 – depending on our work, etc. We just have to be honest with each other when one of us has additional commitments, so the other can work on the short fall. Maturity and acceptance of our reality plays a significant role. Steve is my teammate in this life.
"I just try to find balance in each day first and I try to do activities that can involve my entire family so that we spend time together, making a little positive change in other’s lives. Somehow it just works out."
Happy International Women’s Day to all the women who form the backbone of our society/country!
Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T