Dhanyel's a world-class talker

Observer writer

Sunday, July 10, 2005

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Lauriston, Spanish Town - The final week of school brought a double victory for 11-year-old Dhanyel Johnson, a grade five student of Spanish Town Primary.

Her first victory was being selected by her peers as the new Builders Club president for the upcoming academic year 2005/2006. The second was even better.

She won first place in the international oratorical competition out of hundreds of competitors worldwide, as a result of her presentation titled 'How Will What I've Learnt as a Builder Help Me to Make this World a Better Place To Live'.

The annual competition for Builders Club members is organised by Kiwanis International, which sponsors Builders Clubs across the world.

News of Dhanyel's success in the competition came via email on June 30 from the all-female Kiwanis Club of the First City (Spanish Town), which sponsors Dhanyel's club.

"I felt excited," the 11-year-old said during an interview at her home in Lauriston, Spanish Town, where she lives with her parents, Karen and Clifford Johnson and younger brother Jabulani.

"I know I did well. I expected to win. I worked hard," she added. Precise figures on how many schools participated globally was not immediately available.

However, based on the International Builders Club website, there are more than 2,000 of these 'student-led community service clubs' with about 40,000 members in 15 countries: Aruba, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, Italy, Jamaica, Korea, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles, Philippines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the US.

Invariably, what occurs is that countries hold their own competition, they select a winner, then send the winning presentation on videotape to the Kiwanis International office in Indianapolis, USA, which then selects an overall winner from all the entries received.

This is the second time Dhanyel has entered the local competition. In 2004, she placed second. But this year, she said, she worked harder. It took all of four months to research and write the speech, she said.

In it she argued that persons, young and old can and should do more to help less fortunate children. She singled out street children as needing more shelters and demonstrated how Builders Clubs can also help them by establishing homework centres in their schools.

Perhaps her most winning argument was when she made the point that she and other builders also stand to benefit by contributing to the worldwide relief efforts for tsunami victims of the recent Asian tragedy.

"For, in so doing, I know I'm playing my part in building my own character as a humanitarian and making a difference in someone else's life," she said.

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