DR RADICA MAHASE
On Saturday, Trinidad and Tobago will join the rest of the world in celebrating International Youth Day. According to the United Nations, “International Youth Day is commemorated every year on August 12, bringing youth issues to the attention of the international community and celebrating the potential of youth as partners in today’s global society."
This week, I am featuring an article by one youth who has been blazing a trail as an advocate and youth leader. Here is Maya Nanan's article:
“My name is Maya Kirti Nanan. I am a proud autism sister and an autism advocate. After my brother was diagnosed with autism, my aunt founded the NGO Support Autism T&T to advocate for and create opportunities for people with autism spectrum disorder in TT. I decided to start the youth arm of her organisation, Autism Siblings and Friends Network to encourage other autism siblings and our friends to become a part of this much-needed change in society. I always wanted a safe space to interact with other autism siblings; a support system and I wanted all our friends to be involved too, so that they could learn about my brother and others on the spectrum and see it from different perspectives.
"I am only 20 years old and I am doing my part to change the world, in this case to make society more inclusive because I want a better life for my brother. I remember when Rahul got his autism diagnosis, and my family didn’t have anyone to help us, to guide and support us. You didn’t hear much about autism back then, but now, it has become a topic at schools, workplaces, and webinar sessions, and more importantly, you are hearing about autism all year round. I am very proud that the work that we do as youths have contributed towards this. Our work is one of a kind – we created the first-ever Autism Fun Day, Autism Christmas parties, Autism Birthday Club and so much more!
"As a recipient of a grant from the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust we were able to open Rahul’s Clubhouse, our autism friendly-space. All are sensory-friendly events so parents don’t have to worry about loud music, bright lights, large crowds. We make sure that the they are comfortable environments where no one is being judged – all the volunteers are sensitised and have been through training sessions with us, so they know what to expect and how to support parents.
"My team and I, all youths, genuinely enjoy what we do, and I think that is what sets us apart from other groups – we are always enthusiastic, and when we come up with an idea, we just roll with it! Even though we don’t get government funding and only get corporate sponsors every now and then, we come up with creative ways to fundraise so that we can do activities, etc. We are a group of vibrant youths and I believe that we are making a positive impact on the world.
"I first started volunteering with international youth organisations when I was 14 years old and I had the privilege of receiving training from these, that allowed me to develop as a leader over the years. In the past, I've done collaborative work with Diana Award recipients from all around the globe, some of them from Bangladesh, Cyprus, Canada, India, and the UK. Currently, I'm a member of the Queen's Commonwealth Trust, where I have the chance to connect with like-minded trailblazers. Every time I speak to them, I feel empowered, they all have their stories and reasons for why they started the work they are doing. They are all highly motivated youths, making a major impact in their countries. They all believe that it is important for young people to get involved in a cause they are passionate about and be a driving force of change in this world.
"Young people sometimes doubt themselves, especially the younger ones who are made to feel like they are too young to make an impact. There is no such thing as being too young to make an impact. Whatever age you are, you can make a positive impact in your own way. I see cases where older youths and persons on the whole, who make the younger ones doubt themselves. In my view, we are all in this together, no matter the age gaps, once we are interested in making a difference and willing to make that change, then we are already on the right path.
"Young people are sometimes looked at as lazy or socially disengaged. Some just don't have the opportunities like others in their age group – this may cause them to fall back or miss out on certain aspects in life, but that does not mean that they are not interested. The youths that I know and have worked with personally, have been going above and beyond to make changes in their countries. They advocate and protest, write petitions, speak out – they are breaking so many barriers and setting many “firsts’ in their countries regardless of their situations.
"In TT, I think that the youths are given so many opportunities now as opposed to before, especially considering that we have our own Ministry of Youth Development and National Service. I think this ministry is doing a fantastic job with their initiatives, but I wish that some of it isn't a one-time event (particularly the school visits – I hope they have follow-up sessions with the students to see the progress with them and how they are applying what they've learnt), Additionally, I'd like for them to focus on other areas/communities as well – have outreach booths at all the community centres in the country, take the caravan to those centres and treat all parts of TT equally, regardless of the gender, race, and ethnicity. Most importantly, listen to our voices, include us in the decision-making process and give us a chance to be agents of change.
"In TT, young people need to be more open-minded, willing to learn and willing to be corrected. These are the only ways they'll be able to grow and achieve their fullest potential, personally and professionally. I want to see more youths involved in positive situations, I want them to be able to change the narrative of TT being a crime/drugs country, I want them to be able to vision themselves as having a bright future and create that future because this is home, our sweet TT, and we are the future of this country, and we need to start from a young age to shape it into what we want it to be for the generations to come. I want our young people to be fierce and bold, don't be afraid to question older people and certainly, don't be afraid to stand up for yourself and what you believe in."
Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T