Press ReleasesYouth Development


Caribbean youths have reached several milestones in recent years; one of the most important is the growing recognition that they are better able to bridge the gap between themselves and adults. There are still a lot of challenges to overcome though. Some of these challenges will be discussed during the youth symposium that will be part of CARIFESTA VIII, scheduled for 24 to 30 August in Suriname.

Listing the challenges youth face these days, Dr Heather Johnson, who manages Youth Affairs at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, highlights social and economic challenges, a failing school system, the necessity of new partnerships, the lack of skills and HIV/AIDS.

Finding the answers to these challenges, according to her, is crucial, as the Caribbean has a very young population, with no less than 60 per cent of the people younger than 30. “It is important to get them as involved as possible in the actual life of society, in civic matters as a means of grooming them to the point where they have to take over. It is very important to save the young generation. They are really battling with a number of unprecedented challenges,” she said.

CARIFESTA VIII, the Caribbean’s premier cultural festival, is placing the spotlight on youth. The activities for youth will include two youth symposia. A Surinamese CARICOM Youth Ambassador, Sergio Belfor, explained that the role of young people will be discussed, as will HIV/AIDS and art and culture in the Caribbean. Lectures will be presented by Michael Boetius, Helmut Gezius and Tania Codrington. Belfor and fellow CARICOM Youth Ambassador Valerie Laljie will lecture on the role of youth during CARIFESTA.

Youth Ambassador Belfor says that indeed much is done to embrace youth – at least at the national level – in Suriname. He was appointed in 2000 and reappointed twice. “We have three themes for 2002 -2004: drug enforcement, HIV/AIDS and regional integration. We are executing activities in light of those themes,” he said. Some 1,500 people participated in an anti-discrimination parade, a two-day seminar was held on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and more recently in June, a regional workshop was held on sustainable development. Belfor said a number of seminars on drug enforcement were also held.

“We also represented Suriname and CARICOM at regional and international conferences,” he said, mentioning last year’s world conference on sustainable development in South Africa.

The Youth Ambassador said he was very much involved in Youth Focus, the youth activity that is to be held during CARIFESTA VIII. “Youth Focus was supposed to be part of CARIFESTA since the first time CARIFESTA was held. Suriname has decided that youth must get attention,” he stressed. In addition to the youth symposium, there will be daily workshops for young people on art and culture.

“With Youth Focus we are trying to “young” the CARIFESTA participation. We are trying to get young people more involved in their region’s art and culture,” he stressed.

Dr. Johnson said the activities for the youth at CARIFESTA are in line with efforts being undertaken by CARICOM to empower youth. “CARICOM is trying to bring some harmonization to the youth programmes that are being implemented in the individual Member States. There is no networking or coordination between the Governments and associations that execute youth programmes. We have developed a regional strategy, which serves as a focus for programme coordination and harmonization and to bring people from different sectors together. We’re trying to develop intra-sectoral programmes and to bring multiple people together, with the regional strategy fields as a focus” she said.

She explained that the Youth Ambassador Programme is the Community’s main youth body, through which the issues of youth participation and greater sensitization and awareness of what CARICOM stands for and to get people more involved in regional integration.

“The Youth Ambassador’s Programme is a leadership development programme. We use those young people as the focus for educating their peers about CARICOM priorities. It is an institution for youth participation and partnership,” added Dr. Johnson.

She informed that at the national level, the ambassador’s task is to set up a national youth programme that would assist with the advocacy for peer education. “But they don’t work alone. They have to form partnerships with Ministries and all institutions that are involved in one level or another in youth development,” she said.

Dr. Johnson stressed that she would still urge CARICOM Member States to execute programmes at the national level. “My ultimate goal would be to see the countries working – at their own pace – towards achieving progress in the youth development sector in partnership. In other words, the young people working at the agencies work more with the adults. At that point, CARICOM’s role will be to monitor and provide support in terms of tools and strategies. The Member States should take the crisis of youth seriously and begin to put programmes in place that are going to be implemented in partnership with young people. So if there are problems, they are dealt with as a joint effort,” she said.

The CARICOM Youth Coordinator said that unfortunately, youth work in the past was dealt with as social work. In addition, some countries do not even have a ministry that deals with youth affairs yet. “It is a very specific subject. We want to see the ministries staffed sufficiently with people who can do research and people who can deal with the issues. Problems need to be dealt with at the national level,” she said.

According to her, there has been progress. “Look at it from a relative standpoint. Ten to fifteen years ago, there was more animosity and more conflict between adults and youth. They did not work together at all. I am talking about confrontation. Since then, there has been progress in terms of the partnership,” she said.

Organizations are now looking towards adults as partners. “But there is still work to be done in intra-sectoral working. The fact that you agree to work together doesn’t mean that adults accept you as a partner. But indeed, it is a far cry from a situation where every situation where you brought young people and adults together, it was a confrontation,” she said.

She also believes there is more evidence of coordination among the programmes where they exist at the national level because of CARICOM’s regional youth strategy. “What we see now is that the challenges have changed, they haven’t decreased. There are still new challenges that we have to overcome,” she said.

She said answering those challenges was the responsibility of the national institutions as well. “The problems have to be solved in the community. They have to respond to the needs of young people who are at risk. There is a lot more work to be done. We need to strengthen the skills of the agencies and of young people individually, so they can deal with the challenges. Because if there’s one thing we can expect, it’s that there will always be challenges,” she said.

Important, she said, was that adults include young people in their own development. “If you are to deal with changes in a constructive manner, you need to have new ideas and creative solutions. That is one thing we can count on young people for, as opposed to the older generation. We have got to build partnerships,” she said.

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