By Virginia Sowers
When 16-year-old Denzel Matthew left his rural village of La Plaine in Dominica last Friday en route to the United Nations in New York City, it would be an understatement to say he was a tad nervous.
Accompanied and reassured by Francis Joseph, ChildFund’s national director for Dominica/St. Vincent, Denzel rose to the occasion from the moment he landed at JFK.
Representing ChildFund International, Denzel appeared at three separate events related to the United Nations Commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
Throughout the day, Denzel mingled with ambassadors and U.N. officials.
While in New York, Denzel also had the opportunity to meet with a number of ChildFund donors as well as fellow Dominicans now living in the U.S.
As Denzel was preparing to return home, he graciously agreed to one more in a long line of interviews.
Q: What will you tell your family, friends and teachers about your experience at the United Nations?
I will tell my family and friends that speaking at the United Nations was a great experience for me.
Q: How did you feel when you stood up and delivered your statement before the large crowd at the United Nations?
At first I felt nervous and afraid, but I had a lot of support from ChildFund and friends, so I just stood up and delivered.
Q: What did you learn about yourself during this trip?
I learned that I’m a great photographer and a good speaker.
Q: Do you think that it is important for young people’s voices to be heard at the United Nations?
I think it’s important for young people to be at the United Nations because many people from all around the world go to the United Nations, and the young people’s voices will be heard.
Q: What was it like to meet the United Nations ambassador for Dominica?
Meeting the U.N. Ambassador (Hon. Crispin Gregoire) for Dominica was great! We even sat down at a panel discussion together.
Q: Has this trip inspired you to keep working on your goal to help other children when you return to Dominica?
This trip has inspired me in many ways, and I hope that I can help other children reach their goals by introducing positive and fun activities that they can take part in.
Q: Do you think this experience has changed your life?
This experience changed my life by opening a new door for me and allowing me to see my future in a positive and successful way.
Q: What was the most fun thing you did while in New York City?
Everything I did while in New York was fun and exciting! I went to see the play “Shrek” on Broadway. We went sightseeing and walked through Central Park. We went to see 3-D movies. And even though I was scared to speak at the United Nations, I enjoyed it and it was fun.
Yesterday we met Denzel Matthew, a 16-year-old boy from Dominica who turned his life around to help others. The help he is providing to younger children is greatly needed in that country, as well as in nearby St. Vincent in the Caribbean.
ChildFund Caribbean, which runs programs in both Dominica and St. Vincent, reported recently that violence among youth in schools has become a major issue.
“The youth are expressing their restlessness through violence with each other, their teachers, parents and even community members,” says ChildFund Caribbean National Director Francis Joseph. “The list of juvenile offenders is increasing in each country.”
However, there are signs of hope, as you read about yesterday with Denzel. The photography course is just one example of how ChildFund programs work to give youth alternative ways of expressing themselves without turning to violence.
“Consistently from one school to the next, we saw youth becoming friends and finding that common passion for life, for a skill, for opportunity given, for the chance to see life and see their future in a different light,” Francis says.
Youth who participate in ChildFund programs typically become closer to their parents and caregivers; many become more actively engaged in learning.
“Many of them are now excited about being at school. This is a small step we’re taking toward a long-term partnership with the youth through their school system to get them excited about learning, leadership and self-improvement,” Francis says.
For more information about these two countries, click here.
More on St. Vincent and Dominica
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 36,000 children and families
Did You Know?: St. Vincent and the Grenadines are celebrating 30 years of independence in 2009, following centuries of French and British rule. St. Vincent and the Grenadines became the last of the Windward Islands to gain statehood status on October 27, 1979.
What’s next: We meet children in the war-torn nation of Afghanistan.
Today, Denzel Matthew, a youth in Dominica, is presenting his success story to the United Nations as part of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. As part of our blog series “31 in 31,” we are sharing Denzel’s story in his own words, as well as some of the photos he has taken as part of a ChildFund-sponsored photography course.
By Denzel Matthew
I am 16 years old and one of a group of other people close to my age who are working together to address the needs of our community.
We have a high rate of school dropouts in my community. High poverty rates mean that many children and youth cannot attend school. Some quit school early because they are not happy, or they are thrown out because they do not behave properly. We hope to change this by mentoring and tutoring them in reading and writing schools. Our group has made a proposal to ChildFund staff to see if this is possible.
We are also focused on providing positive social activities, such as attending sporting events and playing football and hiking together.
We also want to help protect the environment. We are proposing a conservation program to help protect an area called Nature Island, a popular destination for tourists in my country. We want to help conserve the animals in this area, which includes rare turtles and a frog species known as a Mountain Chicken.
But this wasn’t always my story. Less than two years ago I was known in my community for other reasons. I used to feel frustrated and hopeless. I turned to violence to express my unhappiness with life. Every day was a struggle for me to survive, as I come from a poor family and community. I could not see my future. I had nowhere to go. I felt helpless.
But something happened at my school that changed my life — a photography class was introduced thanks to ChildFund. One of our assignments was a photo essay to show off our community. It seemed strange because in my world, there was little beauty. But I liked taking photos and my other friends liked it as well.
We also had a football program at our school that I participated in with my friends. For the first time in my life, I had a way to let out my emotions without being violent.
Today, I am a happier person and am happy to tell my story. But much work remains. I hope that by helping others in school and getting more youth involved that I can change the future of others who may be in situations like mine.
For more on Denzel and today’s event, click here.
What’s next: Our discussion of island nations continues as we stay in the Caribbean to visit neighboring St. Vincent.
By David Hylton
Public Relations Specialist
A 16-year-old Dominican boy who overcame a violent and hopeless past through a program sponsored by ChildFund International will share his transformational story at the United Nations next week. The event is part of the commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and the world body’s continuing observation of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Denzel Matthew is one of five children from an impoverished family in the Caribbean nation of Dominica. His troubled life centered on his involvement with a spate of violent activities until a photography course brought him purpose and direction. He will take part in two U.N. events on Monday, Oct. 19.
The first, “Children and Families Speak Out Against Poverty,” takes place 1:15-2:30 p.m., in Conference Room 2, U.N. Secretariat Building. This commemoration is organized by the International Movement ATD Fourth World, the NGO Subcommittee for the Eradication of Poverty and the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and co-sponsored by the Missions of France and Burkina Faso to the United Nations.
The presentation will be followed by an interactive panel: “Children: The Future and the Present — Participation in Poverty Reduction and Accountability for Rights.” This event takes place at UNICEF’s Labouisse Hall, 3-5:30 p.m. The panel is organized in partnership with UNICEF by the NGO Subcommittee for the Eradication of Poverty and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, with the support of the NGO Committee on UNICEF.
Like so many youth in Dominica, Denzel faced a bleak future, having been involved in violent activities since a young age.
“Every day was a struggle for me to survive, as I come from a poor family and community,” he says. “I could not see my future. I had nowhere to go.”
But last year, a photography course made possible by ChildFund International donors opened an unexpected doorway for Denzel. After years of despair, he discovered how to channel his energy in artistic rather than violent ways. In addition to providing him with new skills, the photography class introduced the teenager to others with similar interests. When the program ended, Denzel wrote in his evaluation that he no longer felt like dropping out of school or hanging out with the local gang.
“For the first time in my life, I had a way to let out my emotions without being violent,” he says.
As he shapes his own future, Denzel also wants to change the lives of those following in his footsteps. He has joined a youth group of about 20 peers who are committed to making a difference in their community. Denzel’s latest effort is to create a mentoring program to assist children in his community with reading and writing skills.
The youth group also is developing a conservation program to help protect an area known as Nature Island, a popular tourist destination on Dominica.
“Today, I am a happier person and am happy to tell my story,” Denzel says. “I hope I can change the future of others who may be in situations like me.”