Saturday, January 20, 2018

Leading by excellence

Because they embodied the best expression of the values to which we should all aspire, Trinidad and Tobago men’s 4 x 400 relay team is the Trinidad Express Individual of the Year for 2017; Samuel Williams, a blind pupil, is our chosen Youth of the Year; and Fishermen and Friends of the Sea is our Community Group of the Year.

By their outstanding performance at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Championships in London last August, the relay team lifted their nation to the heights of international achievement.

Watching them on the rostrum to the strains of the national anthem, Trinbagonian hearts the world over burst with pride. They reminded us that with hard work, discipline and willpower, we are not children of a lesser God but have the capacity to be the best in the world.

Just a few weeks before, a child had stepped forward to teach us the lesson of grit, perseverance and self-application in the quest to rise beyond life’s challenges. Securing a place at a secondary school of one’s first choice is not unusual but when the pupil is blind, as in the case of 14-year-old Samuel Williams, it is an achievement against all odds in T&T.

Samuel’s outstanding achievement in earning his place at St Anthony’s College highlighted the situation of special needs pupils in a country which, inexcusably, continues to lag far behind in meeting its obligations to all citizens.

So many of our children are being denied the opportunity of rising to their potential because of the failure to equip the education system to meet their needs. The School for the Blind in Santa Cruz from which Samuel graduated to St Anthony’s, is itself a rarity in its effort to educate blind children. Samuel endured and triumphed in the primary school system because he had the willpower, parental and teaching support to hurdle the school’s closures, class disruptions and other limitations.

He stands as the poster child for every special needs child who is being overlooked and underestimated by a national system of educational neglect.
In 2017, we were also reminded of the power of community organisation by the environmental NGO, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) which carried its advocacy all the way to the Privy Council and won.

FFOS’s track record of sustained environmental activism peaked with November’s Privy Council ruling in its favour in its challenge of the Water Pollution (Fees) Amendment Regulations, 2006. It had taken eight years, but because of FFOS’s action, the government is now compelled to abandon its “Peter paying for Paul” fixed pollution fee in favour of a sliding scale in which big polluters are charged more.

In a year in which our beloved nation has been challenged in every way, our relay team, young Samuel and FFOS have shown us paths into the future. All three have demonstrated qualities that would transform our lives, our communities and the nation as a whole.

Theirs have been the real examples of leadership for a nation that is losing confidence in its capacity to endure through tough economic times.