The 2021 edition of the Day of General Discussion organised by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child had a Kerala connection.
One of the opening remarks and the only one by a child was given by 17-year-old Amilyn Rose Thomas. Her family hails from Pala in Kerala’s Kottayam district. The other speakers at the opening session were the UN Chair of the Committee for Rights of the Child, Associate Director and Global Chief of UNICEF and special representative of Secretary-General on Violence against Children.
What is the event
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) holds a Day of General Discussion every two years and the 81st session was organised on September 16-17. The DGD is an opportunity for children, youth and policy makers to come together for a day and talk about a specific issue related to children’s rights. This year the theme was children in alternative care.
Amilyn, a deserving participant
This theme was indeed special for Amilyn as her brother Immanuel Thomas is a special needs child with a rare genetic mutation called Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, a disorder affecting various parts of the body. He was born on November 14, 2011 and is admitted to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for the past six months following complications related to seizures and respiratory distress.
“Amilyn’s experience of caring for her brother who has disabilities has made her a strong advocate of children’s rights and making sure children’s voices are heard. She is also part of her school's model United Nations and debate teams,” Mikiko Otani, Chairperson for the Committee, said while introducing her for the opening remarks.
Amilyn attended a creative writing college credit program during the summer of her 8th grade. As a very young student who attended this college-level course with English teachers and undergrad English major students, many professors were very impressed with her work.
She wrote a poem on Immanuel and his seizures and that caught the attention of many including Dr Pavan Antony, who is a professor at the School of Education at the Adelphi University, New York, and teaches special education teachers. It was Dr Antony who nominated her to CRC's Children’s Advisory Team.
Following the nomination, Amilyn got selected as one of the 30 members from 250 applicants around the world, representing 19 countries and was working with the committee for almost two years as a member of the Children’s Advisory Team. She represented the United States of America.
“It was amazing. I got to work with children all over the world which I think was the best part. I got to meet children from Pakistan and Nepal and a lot of African countries,” Amilyn said about her experience of working with the Children’s Advisory Team.
Their main objective was to discuss the topic ‘children in alternative care’ and compare the care options in different countries, conduct worldwide surveys among children, identify global speakers from children’s organizations and provide guidance to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and prepare agenda for the Day of General Discussion to be held in UN world headquarters in Geneva.
However, COVID-19 played spoilsport and the event planned to take place on 18th September 2020 in Geneva was conducted a year later on 16th September 2021 through Zoom meeting. You can watch it on UN Web TV.
Motivated and focused
Amilyn's experience of caring for Immanuel has made her committed in working towards a better future for children with special needs. She wants to become a paediatric surgeon and has “a big desire to be an advocate for children.”
Her young age does not deter her from gaining more experience and learning by doing more. This summer, she did an internship at a local hospital in Philadelphia with a research team. “I got used to patients and doctors and I loved the environment I want to be in one day,” says Amilyn.
In school, she runs a club for Operation Smile. It is a non-profit medical service organization which does free surgeries across the world for children with cleft lip.
“Since, I live in America I think we are very privileged as we have good health insurance and amazing programs for special needs kids. But in other parts of the world, and in poor income places of even America, people with special needs don't have access to quality care,” notes the teen advocate.
“I want to show that high-quality care should be accessible to everyone — no matter how much money you make, no matter where you live,” she shares her dream.
Well-rooted in Kerala culture
Amilyn is the daughter of Jose Thomas and Merline Augustine. Jose belongs to Avimoottil House in Pala and is the eldest son of AJ Joseph (Retired Office staff, Alphonsa College Pala) and Rosamma. Merline is from Kunnakkattu House in Moolamattom.
Jose and Merline got married while they were in the United States in the year 2000. Amilyn was born there and is a US citizen.
Jose is working as a Math Teacher at Spring Ford Area High School and Merline is the Associate Director of Global Compliance at pharma major Pfizer Inc.
Even though the family is currently settled in Philadelphia they visit Kerala once in every two-three years.
“We have always tried to inculcate Kerala's values and culture in our children,” Jose said.
For the opening remarks, on September 16, Amylin was dressed in an Indian attire. “We chose the dress purposefully. We need to show our culture and that has its own value especially in font of the UN audience,” he said.
This is what Amilyn had to say about Kerala: “I really like Kerala because I get to see all my family and it helps me relearn my Malayalam language skills.”
During her last Kerala visit in 2019, Amilyn conducted a presentation and spoke about emotional intelligence in some schools and colleges in Kerala. She chose the topic because she was alarmed by the suicide rates in the State.
“I hope to one day come back to India and help children,” says Amilyn.