There were dozens of smiling faces and applause filled the air as the historic I Am Able Conference got underway at the St James’s Resort at Mamora Bay on Monday.
With hundreds of delegates, ambassadors, well-wishers, and other high officials in attendance, the opening ceremony of the much-anticipated conference featured singing, a poem, an instrumental rendition, testimonies, and speeches.
One of the speakers at the function was Antigua and Barbuda’s Health and Environment Minister-Molwyn Joseph, who delivered the morning’s featured address, a speech that was punctuated by reproofs and encouragement.
“Sometimes in our country, we doubt ourselves and I hope on this occasion we can all embrace the opportunity to change Antigua and Barbuda once and for all in so far as our outlook on people with disability.
This is going to require all of us in this room, accepting some personal responsibility to change the culture and the social fabric of Antigua and Barbuda,” Joseph declared.
The Minister went on say that too often individuals only look at the physical inability of a disabled person rather than looking at them as a complete human being with gifts and abilities that can be used for nation building.
“Too often, many in the society do not look beyond the surface; many times when we look at persons with a disability, we tend not to look past the physical and we consequently fail to recognize the tremendous abilities of such persons. Thus the I Am Able Conference must send a clear message that we must focus more on ability than disability, it’s about what they can do and not what people think they can’t do,” added the Health & Environment Minister.
Other speakers during the opening ceremony included Angelique Pouponneau of the Seychelles, Ron Tarter, the director of the Calvin Ayer Foundation the Platinum sponsors of the conference, and Aaron Phillip a 16-year-old Antiguan and Barbudan wheelchair bound celebrity who is a writer, social justice advocate, and aspiring model.
Pouponneau, who is the Vice President of Inclusion and Engagement at the Commonwealth Youth Council told the gathering that I Am Able Campaign was organized to raise awareness as well as to change peoples’ perspective for people living with disabilities while Tarter said that the Calvin Ayer Foundation is all about inclusion and making a difference in the lives of others.
Phillip, on the other hand, kept the audience at the edge of their seats with his humor and vibrant personality as he expounded upon the topics of inclusion, diversity, discrimination, ableism, as well as disability activism and advocacy.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Dr. Aubrey Webson also delivered brief remarks, April Anthony rendered a poem, Ulric Matthew delivered a musical rendition, and Reverend Olson Daniel delivered the opening prayer. The national anthem was performed by the Adele School Choir.
The Commonwealth Anthem was sung by the National Youth Choir of Antigua and Barbuda. Monday’s opening ceremony was moderated by Antigua and Barbuda’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Her Excellency, Ambassador Ms. Karen-Mae Hill.
The formal ceremony was followed by a series of panel discussions on various topics pertaining to youths with disabilities in Antigua and Barbuda.
The three-day conference continued on Tuesday with an address by Education Minister-Michael Browne, followed by a story of inspiration by Arian Kirby the proprietor of the Turtle Shop, panel discussions and four sessions of workshops.
The curtains will come down on the conference on Wednesday with the morning sessions at St James’s Club where Senator Londell Benjamin will address the gathering, to be followed by stories of inspiration by St, Claire Henry, National Youth Ambassador, Antigua and Barbuda, and more panel discussions and workshops.
The closing ceremony will take place later that day at Government House, beginning at 7.00 pm.