More Youth Involvement needed in Community Development Programmes

By Reginald Andrew

OVER the years, successive administrations have vowed to get young people more acutely involved towards participating in national affairs and also to have a say in relevant matters of state.

As evidenced, with the formation of the much-touted Youth Economy Agency [YEA] initiative, the current administration has taken the cue a bit further by injecting resources and funds, and mentorship aspects into that programme. And there has been reports of favourable results and feedback, and of success stories in the process.

Furthermore, for the past two years, the government has taken a bold step to get the Youth Parliamentarians – a feature during the annual Youth Month observations – to get actively involved in discussing and debating on current and pertinent issues in the society.

Minister of Education, Innovation and Vocational Training Shawn Edward, a former Youth Development and Sports minister spoke out recently about the youth involvement and government’s continued efforts to get young people more ingrained in the decision-making aspects/and policies of the country.

“There is an indispensable role for young persons in national development and any platform we can give apart from the formal education system to engage young people meaningfully, to discuss issues pertaining to national development would be a good investment,” said Edward.

He noted that the Youth Month activities provided another opportunity “where a platform was given to young persons to speak to the nation on matters of significance to the country as a whole.”

Edward adds that Youth Month is not the only platform available, and therefore, “moving forward, we have to ensure that we give young persons the opportunity to contribute to the national debate on issues of relevance to us as a country”.

“As a government,” he said. “It is very deliberate on our part to incorporate young people in decision making. For instance, every state board that we have appointed as an administration, we have made allowances to have a young person on that board, either representing the National Youth Council, or representing the youth sector.”

Presently, the minister noted, there are several young people in the Public Service “holding and shouldering some very critical positions in the public sector. And this is yet another expression of our administration’s belief in empowering young people and giving young people a voice.”

He recalled that government created the YEA initiative, as not just another programme in a ministry, but “the nomenclature of the ministry that is led by the Prime Minister (himself) is the Ministry of Finance , economic Development and the Youth Economy – where  we are deliberately targeting young persons to empower them , and to create avenues where they can give expression to the talents that we believe can only augur well for a better Saint Lucia, down the road.”

The vibrancy of the NYC has been revered over the years for churning out several young stalwarts, who later matured and have gone on to gain employment in key positions in the country, both in the private and public sector.

Are there plans to rejuvenate the NYC operations, so that it can ‘rub off’ on the other respective towns and village councils into more meaningful and substantial contributions?

“We have had an issue with (the formation) organsised groups for young persons,” noted Edward. “When you look at the uniformed groups … the scout movement, girl guides, brownies and the Cadet Corps they have struggled for some time now.”

The minister recalled that now, it is a very different situation to what transpired in the 1980s and early 1990s, there were “thriving community-based organisations and national organisations that catered specifically for young people in a voluntary capacity.”

Unfortunately, he said, these groups have encountered challenges and subsequent studies “have been commissioned … to determine what could be the reason” for this shortcoming.

“We were able to identify quite a few factors that have contributed to a dwindling interest in community-based organisations on the part of young people,” said Edward.

Nonetheless, he added, “we recognized that quite apart from the formal school system, we must create avenues to get young persons engaged in community life”.

“It engenders a sense of belonging, it encourages the creation of civic-minded young people …yet a model citizen in 2023 and in this millennium has to be an individual who brings more than just academic qualifications,” stated Edward. “You must be a creature of the community where you live, so (that) you can co-exist with people, where you can look to resolve differences amicably and things of that sort.”

He said while the government continues to cater for young people and to provide a platform and avenues for them “the young people (themselves) would have to come to the realization that …there are benefits to be derived from some of the programs that the government is putting in place”.

Added Edward: “History is replete with examples of individuals who would have come through the youth system or the youth movement and today are holding some very critical positions both in the private and public sector.

“And when you have that kind of quality available to serve the country, Saint Lucia is always a better place for it.”

Meanwhile, more recently, amidst other developments and concerns, the Saint Lucia National Youth Council [SLNYC] commended two of its members – Sanjay Mitchell and Chris-Anne Moonie for performing “an exceptional job” at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank – ECCB Youth Parliament.

According to the SLNYC, in October, these two remarkable youth lent their voices to a motion: “Calling for Urgent Action to Quell Youth Related Violence in the Eastern Caribbean.”

The statement adds: “This is an important issue that requires immediate attention and action. By bringing this matter to the forefront, you have demonstrated exceptional leadership and commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of young people in our region.

“We sincerely appreciate your hard work, preparation, and dedication in representing Saint Lucia. We are proud of you, and the SLNYC stands ever ready to support you in your future endeavors.”

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