Good evening.

There are very few things that make my heart as glad as knowing that children – particularly vulnerable and less fortunate children – are being loved and cared for. It seems to me that loving and caring for children is among the most vital and the most impactful work we can ever do as human beings. And, when efforts are made to love and to care for vulnerable and less fortunate children, I believe that there is every cause to be happy and to be proud.

And so, this evening, I am very happy, and I am very proud to be here. I am happy and proud to recognise the work of the Rapidfire Kidz Foundation. And I am happy and proud to congratulate the Foundation, and all of its supporters, for showing Trinidad and Tobago how to go about doing the most vital and the most impactful work we can do.

For the past eleven years, the Rapidfire Kidz Foundation has been a beacon of light and of hope to children in vulnerable situations across Trinidad and Tobago. Countless children from across the country have benefitted from the Foundation’s outreach and goodwill. The Foundation’s work is a source of tremendous happiness. And, although you must have faced many challenges along the way, for example the disruption of the Covid-19 Pandemic, you have continued to press toward the mark. The Foundation’s commitment is a source of tremendous pride.

I am told that, through the ‘Eyes Right’ campaign, over 1,000 eyeglasses have been distributed to children in need. These eyeglasses are, quite literally, a window for improved educational outcomes in children who are now better equipped to read and to learn with confidence. Career fairs and textbook donations over the years have added to the positive outcomes derived through the Foundation’s work; while toy drives, hospital visits, petting zoos, and water parks have put smiles on the faces of numerous young people. Your recent blood donation drive to mark ‘World Blood Donor Day’, was another recent example of the Foundation in action. And your playpark in Palmiste, which Mr Ratiram fondly calls the Foundation’s ‘crown jewel’, is yet another means by which the Foundation works towards enhancing children’s health and building community spirit among them.

It seems to me that the Foundation is the living embodiment of the proverb “actions speak louder than words”. It is too easy for us to simply lament about the state of the nation’s children; it is far more difficult to actually do something about it. The Foundation has gone beyond merely talking about helping children. It is actively working towards improving the lives of children. It has brought to life, ideas and initiatives that, in other hands, might well have just lingered and died on the doorstep of imagination.

Seven years and nine months ago, on January 30, 2016, I had the privilege of addressing you, on the occasion of the induction of new executive members of the Foundation. On that occasion, I remarked that although Trinidad and Tobago might well have more resources to devote to improving the conditions of children and young people than other countries in other parts of the world, we were still falling short in discharging our responsibility to our children. I said, then, that we had only to look at the headlines in the news at the time to get a shocking reminder of how short we were falling as a society: stories about two young boys who were dragged out a vehicle in broad daylight and murdered in their school uniforms; the story of that 18-month old baby who was reported to have been sexually abused; the story of a young schoolgirl who had to jump through the window of a moving maxi taxi because she feared she would be attacked; and video of that toddler being physically abused because he wouldn’t drink a bottle of milk. I was President of the Senate then. Today, I am President of the country, and as President, I can say that while we have been doing better in many areas, we are still a long distance away from where we need to be. The headlines are no better now; in many ways, they seem worse. Three weeks ago, the Express Newspapers carried a sad and poignant editorial titled “The preventable tragedy of child deaths”. It was a sensitively and delicately written piece, which very early on, made clear that its purpose was not to add blame to grief.

Blame is often not very helpful. Nor will grief alone, take us where we need to go. In January 2016, I asked the rhetorical question how do we arrest the situation, reverse it and then begin the upward climb to a society in which children and young people are loved and respected and are kept safe? I posited, then, the same answer that I offer tonight – what we need is a revolution of hearts and of minds. What we need are organisations committed to inspiring and leading that revolution. What we need are more organisations like the Rapidfire Kidz Foundation.

As signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and having committed to fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our country has a responsibility to ensure that no child is left behind. And, while we have been making progress in several areas administratively in developing the capacity of and opportunities for our children, organisations like the Foundation have a critical role to play in helping us close the gap between where we are at the moment in terms of helping our children to realise their fullest potential, and where we need to be.

This evening, I call upon all of us to commit, as the Foundation has done, to making every effort at the individual, community and national level to provide a safe, nurturing and positive environment for our children and, in so doing, ensuring a brighter and safer future for us all. This evening, I want to thank and commend each and every one involved in the Work of the Foundation, for your commitment and your action in helping our children, and in safeguarding their futures. And this evening, I want to express my complete and unwavering confidence in the fact that, if we all mirror and embody the spirit of volunteerism and charity-giving of the Foundation, we will produce a generation of young people who are equipped and prepared to take the reins of our future, and to build tomorrow a world far better than any of us can imagine today.

Seven years and nine months ago, I quoted from the poet Dorothy Law Nolte who wrote that, if a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn; if a child lives with hostility, she learns to fight; if a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive. All of this is true. But Ms Nolte also wrote that – if a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence; if a child lives with praise, she learns to appreciate; and if a child lives with fairness, he lives with justice.

Tonight, I say again what I said in January of 2016 – that that is the world we seek: a world in which our children are encouraged, praised and appreciated and treated justly. I say again that it is in our mutual interest and it is our common goal to build such a world. I say again how grateful I am to the Rapidfire Kidz Foundation for helping Trinidad and Tobago build this new world. Tonight, I thank the Foundation for dreaming up and carrying out work that has been so wonderful and so impactful in the lives of our nation’s children. I ask you to continue doing your good work. And I look forward to speaking with you in years to come, in whatever capacity I might be in then, and to our giving thanks, in one united voice, to the work and the generosity of the Rapidfire Kidz Foundation, and to the progress that our country will by then have made in improving the lives of our nation’s children.

I thank you.