DR RADICA MAHASE
Last week the Support Autism T&T family celebrated the achievements of the president of our Siblings and Friends Network, Maya Kirti Nanan. Nanan, 17, was the recipient of the prestigious 2020 Diana Award. She was recognised for her work as an autism sibling, youth leader and special needs advocate. Nanan started the Siblings and Friends Network when she was only 12. Over the years this network has grown into a strong one, with more than 200 youth volunteers.
According to Nanan, “growing up with a brother with autism was quite normal for me because I didn’t really see him as different or anything. He was just my brother. He didn’t do things like I did but that wasn’t an issue for me.
As I got older and I realised that he didn’t have the same opportunities like I did; he didn’t get to do things that I would, for example he didn’t have a school to go to. It’s then that I started to understand how much at a disadvantage he was and I was determined that that should change. I found it was so ‘fast and outa place’ that when we went to the malls people would stare at him. I found it was so unfair that there weren’t many activities for him to do.
“The idea of the Siblings and Friends Network came about when I started volunteering with Support Autism T&T.
I kinda fell into it because the NGO was established because of my brother. After our first Autism Fun Day I met other autism siblings.
I realised that there are others like me who had brothers and sisters with autism. Also I wanted my friends to volunteer as well and that’s how I came up with the idea to include all autism siblings and our friends.” The Siblings and Friends Network has developed into a strong network of youth volunteers. Nanan and her team would usually conduct training sessions for new volunteers.
This group has been instrumental in the success of all events and activities hosted by Support Autism T&T.
They do various activities with individuals with autism, they interact with parents/caregivers and they educate the general public about autism at the NGO’s Autism Outreach Booths. They have become a formidable youth advocacy group, working towards making TT a more inclusive country.
The Diana Award is established in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales and is given out by the charity of the same name. It has the support of both her sons, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. It is the most prestigious accolade a young person aged nine-25 can receive for their social action or humanitarian work.
Award recipients have to be nominated by adults who know the young people in a professional capacity and recognised their efforts as a positive contribution to society – she was nominated by Rishi Ramcharan, executive member of Support Autism T&T. Through a rigorous nomination process, these nominators had to demonstrate the nominee’s impact in five key areas: vision, social impact, inspiring others, youth leadership, and service journey. Maya is the first recipient from TT.
Nanan said, “It is an honour to be a 2020 Diana Award recipient. It means that the work of the Siblings and Friends Network is recognised. It means that my team and I are on the right path and we are creating a positive impact in our country. This is very important to us because we want TT to become more inclusive of those with special needs.
“For me, I want to know that there are some opportunities for my brother and I am willing to work hard to make sure that happens. I know that my friends with brothers/sisters with autism will also work towards making this country more accepting of them.
“The Diana Award inspires me to keep moving forward, to keep advocating for my brother. I am very happy to have a strong team of youth volunteers to work with and I want to thank every one of them for making the Siblings and Friends Network such a successful youth volunteer group.
“I want to encourage other autism siblings to join us. Together we can create opportunities for our special brothers/sisters. We can advocate on their behalf and help to make their lives better. I totally agree with Princess Diana that young people have the power to change the world.”
Dr Radica Mahase founder/director, Support Autism T&T