Inspiring T&T Youth Lighting Up The UNESCO World

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On the  day when we collectively observe All Saints

with the Christian community and Divali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, I want to recognise the inspiring life of one our young citizens, Shamla Maharaj, who has ably represented us at the just-concluded UNESCO Youth Forum in Paris where she was a specially-invited guest of the UNESCO Director General. Because of her determination that her affliction with cerebral palsy from birth will not disabled her pursuit of excellence, this outstanding young lady who is a national award

winner and a youth ambassador, earned her BA and Masters in AgriBusiness Marketing at UWI and is an articulate champion of persons with disabilities,                                                                           came from the most humble circumstances in Trinidad’s rural South.
She was therefore a most apt choice by the UNESCO Director General to participate in the Youth Forum on the theme of Youth and Social Inclusion: Civic Engagement, Dialogue and Skills Development.
We at the National Commission for UNESCO are, (in my official capacity as Chair and in my personal capacity as citizen I am) tremendously proud of the representation you, with Ms Abigail Maxwell, have given to Trinidad and Tobago and all youths of our nation at this forum and are humbled to be walking in your footsteps Sharda and Abigail, when we too will represent this country at the UNESCO General Assembly in Paris next week.
May your perseverance and brilliance continue to shine and light up the world. Shubh Divali!  UNESCO Director General welcoms Shamla Maharaj from Trinidad and Tobago to UNESCO Youth Assembly in Paris. 

See more in Links: http://www.kris-rampersad.blogspot.com;
T&T asks UNESCO to fcus on special needs children
http://kris-rampersad.blogspot.com/2013/11/trinidad-and-tobago-asks-unesco-to_17.html
T&T tops region in UNESCO elections:
http://kris-rampersad.blogspot.com/2013/11/trinidad-and-tobago-tops-region-in.html
Call us BOSS SIDS tell UNESCO
http://kris-rampersad.blogspot.com/2013/11/call-us-boss-say-sids-unesco-general.html
UNESCO World Heritage being run like FIFA say delegates: http://kris-rampersad.blogspot.com/2013/11/world-heritage-being-run-like-fifa.html

Close up … with Shamla Maharaj at the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Page on Divali from the SEction FesTTscapes of Trinidad and Tobago’s Fiction as represented in  LiTTscapes – Lndscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago with this Shirley Bahadur photo....


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Close up … with Shamla Maharaj at the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum

Shamla Maharaj (left) with UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova (right) © UNESCO/E. Urbano

Shamla Maharaj, winner of the Award for Merit for Youth Contribution in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010, is an inspirational youth leader. Despite being diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a young child, she holds a Bachelors of Science degree and a Masters degree, and in 2011 was named the country’s Social Ambassador. She was invited to the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum to speak about her experiences, and her words were greeted a unanimous standing ovation.

We caught up with her to find out more…
What lessons have you learnt from your work as a Social Ambassador in your native Trinidad and Tobago that people in similar situations around the world might find useful?
I earned the title of Social Ambassador of the Ministry of the People and Social Development in December 2011. I took it upon myself to use this accolade to help carry forward the work I have been doing all my life. The title has empowered me and given me a voice to be heard, not only on a corporate or governmental level but also at grass roots level. The media has played a key role in empowering me to open the minds of parents of children with disabilities along with youths who have no inspiration or path to move on in life.
I have also learnt through my interaction that the work done by governments and corporate bodies is not reaching the targeted groups. For instance parents of children with disabilities often seek information through me on if their child can get an education or available therapist and how they go about accessing these intuitions (I too never had the opportunity to receive any form of therapy).
Only when persons are directly in contact with marginalized groups in society are they receptive to receiving information; after all humans are curious beings. Therefore, marginalized groups need to be mainstreamed into society, especially persons with disability, so that all levels of society will gain an appreciation and understanding of these people in order to accept and accommodate these groups.
What do you think most people misunderstand about Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy is misunderstood at all levels from experience.  On a physical basis people perceive that all Cerebral Palsy cases are the same. Cerebral Palsy is damage to the cerebrum of the brain, and affects the motor skills. It affects each person who has it differently. From my experience I have been able to use the physical ability I have been left with and adapt to real life situations. The complexity of the physical disability is not seen in a glance. The mind and ability to think is not affected; it develops on a par with everyone else unless the brain damage is more than just the cerebrum.
People often misunderstand our ability to learn and communicate. Persons who are not directly affiliated with a person who has Cerebral Palsy tend to judge them based on their physical appearance, for instance being shaky, or on a wheelchair. Our emotions and feelings as a person with Cerebral Palsy are just like anybody else’s. Generally, our ability to contribute to society is misunderstood.
Do you feel like there are any unique challenges that young people face in the Caribbean?
Young people are conditioned to think that they need to quote the already successful in society and use these ‘norms’ to create their own success. They have the view that being innovative is creating something physical; yet innovation can be setting examples, such as simply mainstreaming marginalized groups and accommodating them.
In the Caribbean marginalized youths along with youths who are associated with marginalized groups are often stigmatized.  Young people class their peers in two groups: either they can do something or they cannot do it.
Why do you think it’s important for UNESCO to reach out to young people through events such as the youth forum?
The power of a body such as UNESCO can fill the gaps that governments of individual countries might not see as being imperative. Through this youth forum, they can set a path and educate through their work on how to include youths in decision making. This youth forum will empower youths and open their minds on what they can do to help young people from community to international level and can demonstrate the power of the youth voice and opinion as a decision making body.
31.10.2013 – Social and Human Sciences Sector

Close up … with Shamla Maharaj at the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum

Shamla Maharaj (left) with UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova (right) © UNESCO/E. Urbano

Shamla Maharaj, winner of the Award for Merit for Youth Contribution in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010, is an inspirational youth leader. Despite being diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a young child, she holds a Bachelors of Science degree and a Masters degree, and in 2011 was named the country’s Social Ambassador. She was invited to the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum to speak about her experiences, and her words were greeted a unanimous standing ovation.

We caught up with her to find out more…
What lessons have you learnt from your work as a Social Ambassador in your native Trinidad and Tobago that people in similar situations around the world might find useful?
I earned the title of Social Ambassador of the Ministry of the People and Social Development in December 2011. I took it upon myself to use this accolade to help carry forward the work I have been doing all my life. The title has empowered me and given me a voice to be heard, not only on a corporate or governmental level but also at grass roots level. The media has played a key role in empowering me to open the minds of parents of children with disabilities along with youths who have no inspiration or path to move on in life.
I have also learnt through my interaction that the work done by governments and corporate bodies is not reaching the targeted groups. For instance parents of children with disabilities often seek information through me on if their child can get an education or available therapist and how they go about accessing these intuitions (I too never had the opportunity to receive any form of therapy).
Only when persons are directly in contact with marginalized groups in society are they receptive to receiving information; after all humans are curious beings. Therefore, marginalized groups need to be mainstreamed into society, especially persons with disability, so that all levels of society will gain an appreciation and understanding of these people in order to accept and accommodate these groups.
What do you think most people misunderstand about Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy is misunderstood at all levels from experience.  On a physical basis people perceive that all Cerebral Palsy cases are the same. Cerebral Palsy is damage to the cerebrum of the brain, and affects the motor skills. It affects each person who has it differently. From my experience I have been able to use the physical ability I have been left with and adapt to real life situations. The complexity of the physical disability is not seen in a glance. The mind and ability to think is not affected; it develops on a par with everyone else unless the brain damage is more than just the cerebrum.
People often misunderstand our ability to learn and communicate. Persons who are not directly affiliated with a person who has Cerebral Palsy tend to judge them based on their physical appearance, for instance being shaky, or on a wheelchair. Our emotions and feelings as a person with Cerebral Palsy are just like anybody else’s. Generally, our ability to contribute to society is misunderstood.
Do you feel like there are any unique challenges that young people face in the Caribbean?
Young people are conditioned to think that they need to quote the already successful in society and use these ‘norms’ to create their own success. They have the view that being innovative is creating something physical; yet innovation can be setting examples, such as simply mainstreaming marginalized groups and accommodating them.
In the Caribbean marginalized youths along with youths who are associated with marginalized groups are often stigmatized.  Young people class their peers in two groups: either they can do something or they cannot do it.
Why do you think it’s important for UNESCO to reach out to young people through events such as the youth forum?
The power of a body such as UNESCO can fill the gaps that governments of individual countries might not see as being imperative. Through this youth forum, they can set a path and educate through their work on how to include youths in decision making. This youth forum will empower youths and open their minds on what they can do to help young people from community to international level and can demonstrate the power of the youth voice and opinion as a decision making body.

Shamla continues to inspire

By Sue-Ann Wayow South Bureau

Shamla Maharaj, the physically challenged young woman whose academic success has been a source of inspiration to many, has earned the Award of Merit for Youth Contribution in the Express Individual of the Year Awards, 2010.
Maharaj, who is afflicted with cerebral palsy, graduated from the University of the West Indies with a Bachelor of Science degree in October and is pursuing her Master’s in Agribusiness Marketing.
Maharaj, who turned 25 on November 11, said she was elated to have won the award. And her resolution this year is simple.
“To be better than how I was in the previous year.”
She added, “I am very happy. I did not expect to receive such an award but I am very happy for it. I am very excited to win something like that and now I have to live up to its expectations.”
She said the past year has been one of her best.
Next year, she intends to assist physically and socially challenged young people.
“Now that I am in the spotlight, I want to help persons who have social challenges, to talk to them and motivate them and to tell them that no matter what they can move on and out of that negative area of their life that they are in right now.”
She said “No matter what keep trying. God will see you trying and he will help you somehow.”
At seven months old, Maharaj was diagnosed with a brain disorder that left her unable to walk. At age four, she enrolled at the Princess Elizabeth Special School and was among the last to write the Common Entrance examination before it was replaced by the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exams.
She attended the Barrackpore Secondary Comprehensive School and passed all her CXC and A-Level examinations.
Her mother, Chandra Maharaj, who was her constant companion for the three years spent at UWI on Milner Hall, said ” As long as she (Shamla) eats properly and takes care of herself, she will be able to live a normal, long and fruitful life.”
The Maharajs live at Rochard Douglas Road in Barrackpore.
Maharaj boasts of having her own “vehicle”—a motorised wheelchair which she calls “my baby.” She said the wheelchair costs $14,500 and she hoped to buy a smaller one ” as soon as I can save up some money.”
Maharaj said she was still getting adjusted to the Master’s programme which she described as a challenge. For this semester, her mother had to drive her to UWI everyday because her classes were in the evening. But she said she hoped to stay on campus for the remaining semesters.
She thanked all the members of her faculty who assisted her including three of her friends—Ishmael Drayton, Cindy Eugene and Danelle McClean.
Minister of the People and Social Development Glenn Ramadharsingh has promised to assist Maharaj in obtaining an academic scholarship.
Shamla Maharaj’s statement on behalf of the Disability Youth Ambassador and by 
extension Social Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago. 
The Policies made for the vulnerable and marginalized groups in Trinidad and Tobago 
and by extension CARICOM is the stepping stone for these groups in society to be treated with 
equity. The technique that UNESCO uses to accomplish its aim is through research methodology 
done scientifically through quantitative research. Policy making starts with these basic researches 
and finding the causes of the variable social effects in society. What can be done to determine the 
cause? Although the effects may seem endless finding the is the cause in order to obtain a 
solution is tedious, inevitable and fragile task. 
 Policy making in Trinidad and Tobago is a transparent and ongoing process. Dealing with 
Social issues is one thing, but how it is dealt with will determine the outcome. The way in which 
the socially disadvantaged in society is dealt with will affect the other groups, sectors and overall 
status of the country. 
 As a Social ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago it is believed that policies will provide 
solid base in determining the causes of the social issues affecting our country and by extension 
the CARICOM. The current policies in Trinidad and Tobago and the CARICOM countries take 
into account every aspect that can be thought of that affects the vulnerable, marginal and socially 
displaced groups in society. 
 One would aspire inclusion not only as being the end result of including and making 
society a place of equity, but inclusion from the community level of the policy making process. 
Policy making is a process that requires the involvement of main features or groups that would 
make the end result a success that is long term. Groups can be made at the community level

http://www.news.gov.tt/content/minister-people-and-social-development-dr-honourable-glenn-ramadharsingh-and-government#.UnTR2_lwo0o

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