Since her brother’s autism diagnosis, Maya has sought to make Trinidad and Tobago a place that is inclusive of those with autism and other special educational needs by establishing ‘Siblings and Friends Network’. Under her leadership, a team of 200 youth volunteers not only advocate for inclusivity, but they also fundraise to create and provide these opportunities themselves.
“Around the world, children are showing us their strength and leadership advocating for a more sustainable world for all. Let’s build on advances and re-commit to putting children first. For every child, every right.”
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.
On November 20, every year since 1950, World Children’s Day is celebrated in commemoration of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly. Its aims are to promote children’s rights, celebrate togetherness and raise awareness to improve child welfare globally.
Approximately 100 million children globally are ‘street children’ according to UNICEF’s estimate and that number is continuously growing. These children are either incredibly poor or homeless and live on the streets of towns or cities. In my country, Trinidad and Tobago, I have witnessed children who are being denied basic human rights, such as the right to health care, the right to education and the right to protection.
As I write this blog, I reflect on one particular situation I witnessed when I was younger. I would visit the market most Sundays with my mom. One Sunday I recall seeing two children, each holding a sign in their hands. One had the words “I am hungry, please help me” and the other, “Something to eat please.” It was devastating to see them standing on the side of the road begging for something to eat, begging for someone to provide them with a basic necessity. Several thoughts rushed through my mind and I wondered, do these children have access to other basic rights such as education and health care? Later that day I learnt that this is the reality of many other children in my country and even more children around the world.
According to data published on The World Counts, “Every 10 seconds a child dies from hunger, yet food waste is valued at over $1trillion and of all food produced internationally, within 33-50% is not consumed. Childhood hunger can impact an individual’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Children can experience developmental issues and are incapable of f reaching their full potential because of hunger.
Furthermore, internationally, more than 175 million children do not have access to pre-primary education. Education is important as it shapes a better future for a child and assists with developing problem-solving skills. Even more importantly, education provides stability in life. Globally, more than 260 million children are denied their basic right of attending school.
Here are some ideas that can be implemented at a local level, to help improve the lives of children around the world:
1. Start or contribute to a program that feeds children in our local communities. For example, organising a food drive amongst our families and friends where we can collect non-perishable food items to donate to children in need.
2. As individuals, we can organise free tutoring services for children from lower-income brackets who might not have regular access to formal education so that they will not be left behind. Contact your local school and see if they have any volunteering opportunities.
I am the President of the ‘Siblings and Friends Network’ which is the youth arm of Support Autism T&T. In my country, many children with autism and other special educational needs are denied their basic rights to education and health care. My team has been engaged in advocating and creating opportunities for individuals living with autism. We plan and execute events where children with autism and other special needs can participate in sensory friendly activities. It is our hope that as youth volunteers, through our advocacy, we can highlight the unequal treatment of children in our country. We hope that the government of Trinidad and Tobago will implement policies to ensure that every single child is not denied his or her rights.
As we celebrate World Children’s Day 2020, I am calling on everyone, wherever in the world you live, old and young, to actively engage in helping a child in need. I believe that every single person can make a difference. I can and I will make a difference.