Tribute to Geraldine Aliphon

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Autism will continue speaking

Advocacy from the Latin vocare — to speak – may be defined as any action that speaks out in favour of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of persons with a difference. 

Through Geraldine’s strong voice autism has spoken and still speaks today in our farewell. Thanks to her and in remembrance of her deeds, Autism will continue speaking. 

She spoke up for herself and her son informally and thus practised self-advocacy, negotiating and asserting, understanding her own strengths and needs, identifying personal goals, knowing both her rights and responsibilities and communicating these to others. As a parent, with friends and family members, she knew how to speak out gently but forcefully. 

Nevertheless, she did not concentrate her efforts on her own personal needs as the mother of an autistic child and invested in group advocacy. She became a campaigner involved in the foundation and the running of Autisme Maurice. Her commitment was both to national action through Autisme Maurice and international networking: Pôle Autisme Océan Indien (PAOI). She participated in running open training programs, creating learning centres as well as a diagnosis and treatment centre. Geraldine frequently re-evaluated her organisation’s mission and goals. She was creative, constantly redirecting and reshuffling the society’s agenda. She wished to provide means for open debates and brain storming to discuss issues and strategies affecting the autism community in Mauritius. She relentlessly sought successful approaches and skills for direct action on issues related to education and therapy. She requested and obtained the right to go out for autistic children during Covid confinement in 2020. 

Geraldine was fully embroiled in systems advocacy for changing policies, laws or rules that impact how families become resilient and how a child like Evans lives his life. She used vigorous campaigning for political and social change. She stood up firmly in the face of indifference from the authorities, regarding the dire plight of autistic families. But lobbying is only one kind of advocacy. It involves whispering to the ears of politicians and powerful people. The benefits are usually sectorial and may bear prejudice to other groups. She headed movements to raise awareness of the need for comprehensive reform and an end to injustice. She held the cause of all exceptional children at heart. In forums on state responsibility issues, she pushed for the state to stop discriminating against any child on the basis of ability. 

Her heartfelt focus was simply on written or unwritten policies, including discriminatory or despising exclusionist attitudes. She dreamt of bright futures for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and acted by informally assembling together both professionals, volunteers and lay persons. She wanted all stakeholders to learn the signs, by helping to set up awareness campaigns. She was intent upon educating the public about autism and celebrated World Autism Awareness Day in great pomp. NGO communities met face to face, reflected and discussed the issues that affect their everyday lives, thus investing more heavily in the required outcomes and policy debates. She was disappointed that legislators did not take these events as a chance to receive the tools they need to effectively represent these communities. She believed in public education and she wanted to inform widely on these issues. Her actions in apprising the public about how to participate more fully in supportive civic life involved the whole NGO community. She fought to produce relevant resources that reflect the real story of our special needs community. She embarked on ambitious campaigns to mobilise support. She was passionate to gather, network, share information and plan for the future. 

«…Je n’ai pas le temps de m’apitoyer sur mon sort. Je l’ai fait pendant deux ans, après la découverte de son handicap. Il avait alors trois ans. Mais pleurer ne m’avançait en rien et ne l’aidait pas. Je suis donc allée vers les autres pour monter Autisme Maurice.»

Geraldine was a team builder and adopted a federative approach to defending the rights of children with a difference. She represented Autisme Maurice on several platforms. As such she was an active member of Inclusion, a federation of NGOs that work together to generate social responsibility. She was able to collaborate with groups whose philosophy and goals resonated with hers. She was convinced that together, pooling staff and resources, for all parties involved in the special education, the coalition could be better equipped to take on campaigns and work for change. 

Advocacy is also about helping people find their voice. One of the principles of Inclusion is self advocacy. It was one of her targets and she never shied away from presenting her child as a human being with needs and frailties. She openly elaborated on defeats as well as victories. She was never ashamed or felt she was begging for help since she was convinced that the dignity of autistic children was our dignity as a community, as a nation too. 

She bore a large part and sometimes all the weight of giving assistance to children and their families. Her efforts were always oriented towards building power at the base. She was fully convinced of the validating results of the systemic approach, where the optimal solution for autistic children does not involve only professionals but empowers families and communities to include them. She helped with operations for families involved with Autism, providing guidelines, namely for moving around or home modifications, such as reducing the noise for autistic kids. Her idea of community support was not the amount of beneficiaries but effective quality action for fewer families. She was not voracious to cater for many children and make the organisation grow, unkempt or wild. 

With a positive outlook and never, at least outwardly, showing bitterness, she relentlessly battled on facing narrow mindedness from vindictive and destructive “partners” who turned out to be traitors to the cause. Her weakness as an advocate may have been her underestimation of greediness. As a pure heart, she may not have realised that the world is made of builders and destroyers, that some people are bent on defending their own “rights” not seeing that in fact they are destroying the lives of persons more vulnerable than themselves. 

An advocate usually supports a cause on behalf of others, perhaps significant others, but nevertheless engages in a selfless action that enlightens. Geraldine was one of those advocates who was edified by her activism. Our Geraldine worked transparently both as an individual and within a group. She worked hard. She was passionate about reaching her aims but principled and patient too. Good at organising, she chaired meetings in strict “police” style, going by the rules. She was meticulous, taking great care not to omit any points. She was more than legal, I may say quite regal in her manner. Geraldine was a leader, charismatic and all embracing. 

One of her gifts was creativity, as she always cooked up an artistic and attractive formula to manage her son’s program, solve problems or sell her ideas. Wanting to generate revenues for Autisme Maurice in a sustainable and independent manner, Geraldine was involved in training parents and special needs teachers for producing ceramics to set up production lines with specialisation in specific tasks, bearing in mind the facility autistic persons have for repetitive work. When Autisme Maurice faced major financial difficulties, she participated in opening a Boutique Solidaire in Curepipe to raise funds in an ongoing manner. 

I had not met Geraldine personally beforehand, so I am not certain if she always was the exceptional person I met many years ago. Maybe being the mother of an exceptional child forged her to be more of an exceptional person. I guess it was both. 

In her own words: «…moi qui suis d’un naturel timide. C’est ce même “atout” qui m’a aidée à me démarquer dans la police; je comptais parmi les meilleures recrues en académique, drill et arts martiaux.» 

«J’ai appris la discipline, l’obéissance, le respect et une certaine pratique de travail.» 

«De tout cela, du bon comme du mauvais, j’ai appris et grandi.» 

«…Je n’ai pas le temps de m’apitoyer sur mon sort. Je l’ai fait pendant deux ans, après la découverte de son handicap. Il avait alors trois ans. Mais pleurer ne m’avançait en rien et ne l’aidait pas. Je suis donc allée vers les autres pour monter Autisme Maurice.» 

«J’ai mis fin à ma carrière de policière. J’ai eu la garde de mon enfant et de tous les enfants autistes, dont les parents souffrent par manque d’information et de soutien.» 

Geraldine went beyond begging: she was not a self pitying person making autism just a welfare issue. 

Geraldine was the embodiment of the highest principles of advocacy: 

- She had clarity of purpose: a better world for all autistic children. Her life goal became the empowerment of the autistic community and putting autistic children first. 

- She wished to set up safeguards: against discrimination & prejudice, against insecurity and fear. 

- She knew how to respect confidentiality and weighed her words wisely. 

- She was able to work with all partners, while investing both in equality and diversity, Geraldine had a dream, dreams ... «J’ai plusieurs rêves, et je travaille pour les réaliser : 

- Un terrain pour construire un grand centre pour Autisme Maurice : un service tout-inclus. 

- Qu’Evans accède à l’autonomie. 

- Une boutique d’art pour moi-même. 

- Qu’Anaïs réussisse sa vie» 

Geraldine your strength of character, sincerity and steadfastness when facing misfortune will remain a model to your partners. 

The fight goes on. 

We will all continue our combat to make your dreams come true. 

May your onward journey be filled with light and may you guide us, as a guardian angel, to better tomorrows for our exceptional children.

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