by Siddel Ramkisson, CREN Guest Contributor
Editor's note: Siddel Ramkissoon is one of this year’s recipients of the Queen's Young Leaders Award. He is committed to empowering young persons, encouraging youth engagement and involvement and enriching his nation of Trinidad and Tobago. In honour of International Youth Day 2017 (August 12th), we asked Siddel to share with us his motivations and challenges in being a youth advocate in the Caribbean. We here at the CREN are honoured to share his story with you.
"I’ve learnt that you have to put your mind to an idea, stick with it and make it happen – you honestly can’t be bothered by the naysayers – you have to know what you’re about and use the negativity to push yourself to achieve what you want."
Siddel Ramkissoon, 2017
Advocacy and motivation
When I consider why I am the way that I am, or why I do what I do, it is, hands down, as a result of the experiences in my life and the influences of my parents and my environment. My father has always exposed my brother and me to social work. We have continuously witnessed his involvement in the community and, as a result, have always recognised the importance of giving back and “lending a helping hand”.
I do not work professionally in any of the fields that I am involved with socially. This is because I have always seen social work and involvement as a responsibility that must be held in tandem with all the other responsibilities that we must adopt.
One of the biggest driving forces behind my inspiration was my volunteering experience at Mustard Seed Communities (MSC), Jamaica in 2010, an organisation founded by my uncle, Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon. It was the experience of dealing with young, differently-abled children, who were full of life, smiles, and love that mandated the paradigm shift (away from solely Siddel to that of others). If these children who faced so much hardship could manage a smile, then why did I ever worry about a mere final year exam or missing a night out with friends? The entire experience motivated me and sparked that deep love for social work. I will always remember the shouts for “Uncle Tiddel” whenever I entered a room at Mustard Seed – the most heart-warming memory.
Jamaica, I’m now realising, seems to be my land of discovery, since my first zip-lining experience there was largely important in forcing me to step out of my comfort zone. Though I’ve since had many experiences that have forced me to step out my comfort zone, my first zip-lining experience will always be that initial eye-opener. Had my brother and mum not enthusiastically encouraged me to do it I would’ve missed out on a truly exhilarating experience. That got me thinking, at a relatively young age, that I should never be afraid to try something new.
The power of youth impact
I cannot stress enough the importance and capabilities of young people. I’d like to think that I’m a young person and I don’t think I’ve done amazing things, but I do know that I’ve tried to help wherever I could. Can you imagine if every young person was able to “help where/when they could”?
Self-motivation has been my biggest driver – those around me know that unless I really want to do something I will not do it. Young people need to understand the importance of motivating themselves – no one (unless you’re part of the lucky few) is going to hand you anything. Get motivated! Get busy! Don’t worry it is 100% okay to have lazy days – I have many – like 360/365, but make those five (5) days count.
It is important to note that I thoroughly enjoy helping out and being involved. However, I do not enjoy studying, doing math or anything number related, so it’s rare that you find me doing anything related to those areas. The key, then, is to find something about which you are truly passionate and try to offer help within that arena. Consider this: Do you like math? Think about tutoring some kids in your community who can’t afford the extra lessons. Here, both you and the individual benefit tremendously on many levels.
Overall Youth Empowerment and Action
The Overall Youth Empowerment and Action (OYEA) was founded in 2010 on my return from Jamaica, under the influence of my father. It was my hope that we would be able to get young people, especially those who had become detached from the reality of the world, more involved in their community. OYEA’s mission is to develop the potential of the youth in society to promote social involvement and encourage community improvement. Through several projects, OYEA has ensured that young people were at the forefront of issues such as child abuse, the environment, volunteerism and activism. One of our most successful projects was the first entirely youth-led Green Expo in San Fernando in 2011. We are currently hoping to boost our positive environmental impact through some collaborative work with other amazing NGOs in Trinidad. Additionally, the OYEA was involved in the first ever World Humanitarian Summit through dialogue and collaboration with the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth.
Founding OYEA has greatly impacted my personal development. It is because of my involvement in OYEA that I know that young people are capable and important. We must be given a voice and must be considered in major decision-making processes. I have learnt so much about myself. I’ve learnt that you have to put your mind to an idea, stick with it and make it happen – you honestly can’t be bothered by the naysayers – you have to know what you’re about and use the negativity to push yourself to achieve what you want.
Although the experiences and the establishment of the organisation have been fruitful, I have not been exempted from facing a number of challenges – from the pure physical exhaustion to dealing with the bureaucracy (and downright corruption) of many agencies. As I mentioned before these are best overcome by constantly trying. I’ve found that the cliché “everything happens for a reason” has become a motto in my life.
Yes, I get angry. Yes, I get disenchanted. Yes, I take a break and ignore the world for a bit, but life has taught me, time and time again that everything happens for a reason. You may get turned down on one occasion, which then puts you in the perfect place to experience something far more amazing. It has happened. I have experienced this on countless occasions – so that cliché (the same cliché I have rolled my eyes at many times growing up) is now somewhat of a mantra (annoying to some, but so true to me).
When I consider my experiences over the years, I am continuously shocked at just how unaware many persons are about the reality of social issues both locally and internationally. It blows my mind as to the blatant ignorance of persons in authority, especially around issues such as the humanitarian crisis. Even with social media, I am continuously surprised by the pure cluelessness and blatant shamelessness of many. In my opinion, many of us do not truly appreciate what we have. However, it continues to show me that I need to know what I’m about and stick to it. I feel even more motivated to work towards my goals and, as we say in Trinidad, ‘who vex loss’. I am also extremely pleased by groups such as Global Shapers Port of Spain, of which I am a member, who try to motivate young people to take meaningful action.
My advice for young persons reading this: Have confidence in what you do and let the ‘cluelessness’ motivate you.
Siddel Ramkissoon is a 22-year-old philanthropist with over six (6) years of experience in civil society work and volunteerism. A recent graduate of the University of the West Indies, he holds a BSc. in Management Studies with minors in International Relations and Psychology, and he is also the founder of a youth activist group called Overall Youth Empowerment and Action (OYEA) which does high impact work with youth in South Trinidad.
Siddel grew up volunteering and becoming engaged in social work, largely due to his parents and their involvement with different organisations. Siddel's international experiences have allowed him the opportunity to participate in major youth related activities. These activities were always geared toward including youth at levels that they might have previously been excluded, with issues ranging from migration, to media, to, most recently, the humanitarian response. Siddel firmly believes that young individuals need to be actively involved in decision-making processes. He also has a deep love for Tourism and hopes to incorporate that sector into his future studies.