|DiAndra Joseph, 16 (third from left), and Mikyle Chaitsing, 17 (fourth from left), pose at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. Also pictured (from left): British entrepreneur Sir Keith Mills, UK Olympic skier Ellie Koyander, Minister for the UK Olympics Tessa Jowell and Head of the London 2012 Summer Olympics Sebastian Coe.|
By Charlene Thompson
PIARCO, Trinidad and Tobago, 19 May 2010 – Last winter, as their airplane took off for chilly Vancouver, Trinidadian schoolmates Mikyle Chaitsingh and DiAndra Joseph could scarcely believe where they were headed.
Mikyle, 17, and DiAndra, 16, were among 40 students from Trinidad and Tobago chosen to attend the 2010 Winter Olympic Games as part of Inspiration International, or ‘II,’ a UK Government programme supported by UNICEF and the British Council. The programme aims to use the power of sport to transform the lives of young people in developing countries worldwide.
Training young leaders
In the lead-up to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, II – which was launched last November – will make sport and physical education accessible to some 12 million children in 20 countries. So far, it has been launched in Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Jordan, Mozambique, Palau, Trinidad and Tobago, and Zambia.
As part of the programme, Mikyle, DiAndra and other students from five schools in Trinidad and Tobago received Youth Sport Leadership training. They were taught teamwork, event-management and communication skills. With this knowledge, they are well prepared to plan and implement sport festivals for other young people in their schools and communities.
“We were taught how to work with young children, children who were in wheelchairs and from orphanages,” said DiAndra. “We were trained to organize and plan a sporting event – write letters, call school principals, invite the media and do all the work on the day of the event.”
The trip to Vancouver was another part of the II programme. Participants were able to witness the power of a major sporting event in action. Recalling the Olympics, Mikyle smiled. “I never thought I would have had an opportunity like this,” he said.
In Trinidad and Tobago, UNICEF works with the government to help create child-friendly environments. The inclusive nature of sport and physical education is a key component of this initiative.
“International Inspiration is an excellent complement to our work,” said Suleiman Braimoh, UNICEF Representative in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. “UNICEF focuses on programmes that help to empower young persons and develop their self-esteem and confidence,” he added, noting that children must be able to claim their rights and participate actively in their communities – not just as recipients of information, but as leaders with a strong voice.
Another important goal of II is to establish cross-cultural communication among the programme’s participants. To this end, students from five schools in Trinidad and Tobago were paired with students from five schools in the UK. Students, teachers and administrators had the opportunity to share information and experiences in sport, as well as to learn about each others’ cultures. Last September, all of the students involved attended the International Inspiration UK School Games in Wales.
For Mikyle and DiAndra, it was their first trip outside of Trinidad and Tobago. “I was overjoyed to visit Wales,” said Mikyle. “I never thought I would get to meet people from all over the world and learn about different religions and languages.”
‘On the right track’
The II programme has encouraged both DiAndra and Mikyle to work harder in school and at their favourite sports – but also to dream big.
Mikyle, whose favourite sport is tennis, said he dreams about playing at Wimbledon. He would also like to open his own restaurant, applying some of the professional skills he learned from the II programme.
“I want to make the [Trinidad and Tobago] national volleyball team,” said DiAndra. She added that she looks forward to physical education class, where she practices volleyball and other sports every day.
“PE boosts your concentration and patience,” said DiAndra. “It keeps you on the right track in life.”