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We need to hear the voices of our young people

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Tue, Oct 30, 2012

Yesterday, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) hosted an interactive Internet discussion on the topic “Young people this, young people that – what media says about youth!”

The discussion was one of three being held ahead of the launch of the UNDP Youth-IN web portal tomorrow, in Barbados.{{more}}

The Youth-IN portal is part of the UNDP’s Project Youth Innovation, which aims to get young Caribbean people involved in their societies and to get their societies to invest in them.

The panelists in yesterday’s discussion were St Lucia’s Clinton Reynolds, who is the president of the Media Association of St Lucia; Andrea Bryan, the Youth Think Tank representative in Guyana and Vincentian Clare Keizer, the CEO and Editor of the Searchlight newspaper.

During yesterday’s discussion, the point was made that around the region, there is the perception that the media pay more attention to youth involvement in crime and violence than they do when young people do something positive.

The panelists, however, made the point that this perception is not supported in fact, but it appears this way, because stories about crime and violence are what immediately grab the readers’ attention and what most people remember.

For example, for the last three months beginning in August, Searchlight carried 221 stories about young people. Of these, only 31, or 14 per cent had anything to do with crime or violence. Sixty-five (29 per cent) were about sports, 12 per cent were about achievement in professional or academic spheres; 13 (6 per cent) were about the creative arts and the largest group, 39 per cent were about other topics such as summer camps, workshops, etc. Interestingly, only one story was about youth involvement in agriculture. But that is a topic for another discussion.

The point was also made that the youth do not just want positive stories about what they do reported; they want to be engaged; they want their voices heard. They want to be seen as problem solvers and positive contributors to the development of their countries.

Radio call in programmes are very popular in St Vincent and the Grenadines and around the region, but very few of the callers are young people. The discussion is usually dominated by the same handful of older, serial callers. Over the last 12 weeks, Searchlight published approximately 150 letters in 25 editions of our newspaper. Only 12 of these letters (8 per cent) were written by persons under the age of 29, with one person writing eight of those 12 letters.

Why aren’t our youth reaching out and demanding that they be heard and their issues be addressed in a balanced manner? Why aren’t the voices of our youth heard on our radio stations or opinions published in our newspapers? It could be that they prefer the platform of social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, where their opinions are published without being moderated.

However, for the wider society to hear their voices and engage them, our youth are encouraged to use all available opportunities and media. They need to be encouraged to share what they think about what is going on in their lives. For example, what do they think about the recent phenomena of teens committing suicides and schoolgirls running away from home? These are worrying phenomena. Why are these things happening? Could our young people provide clues as to what is driving their peers to take such drastic actions?

The wider society needs to pay closer attention to the challenges facing Caribbean youth, but the young people need to meet us part of the way. We are waiting to hear your voices.

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