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The importance of non-governmental, community-based organizations

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Excerpt from address delivered on November 20th 2007, at the Methodist Church Hall, at a workshop hosted by NESDEC – “Stronger non-governmental organisation and community based organisations for a stronger Nation”.

Outlining the role of our youth

A national youth effort is compulsory if we are to properly manage the affairs of this our blessed nation in times to come. We must rely on our intellect to take us forward. In making the transition to adulthood, our young people need unfailing support, high-quality guidance and the opportunities to gain new skills and pertinent experiences.{{more}} As we continue in our quest to formulate a difference in the lives of not only disenfranchised individuals, including some of our youth, and particularly those in relatively marginalised communities, let us recognize foremost the power which lies within, and enforce the critical skills which will make that needed difference possible.

In current times, organisations must play a much more critical part in our everyday lives than ever before. Organising is the next big step after dialogue. As it relates to youth, when we are involved in the process of organising we take ownership of our future. The importance does not end there, as it is the best way to develop a new generation of leaders – through direct action, community research, reflection and political analysis. It is a means for populations, largely our youth, to reconnect with systems of society, principally with the educational system. When people including youth feel neglected, overlooked or discounted by society, they can become susceptible to negative influences and anti-social behaviour. We do not need to look too far to see the reality of this in our region.

The ability of a country to follow a sustainable development path is determined to a large extent by the capacity of its people and its institutions to critically address the prerequisites, which guide social, political and economic achievement. It is in this light, that our communities must at all times be seen as fundamental institutions in the developmental process. In this regard, capacity building encompasses the country’s human, scientific, technological, organisational, and institutional resource capabilities. What then is our basis for action? The ultimate goal is to empower our communities, both rural and urban, to the extent that they can actively form a fundamental part of the apparatus for governance. Nothing less will suffice if we are to succeed. This will safely allow us to move past the stage where we hold only those sitting in Parliament at ransom for the future successes or failures in our country. We must begin to play our part, and particularly so, since the possibility of our nation succeeding must at all times be seen to rest on the shoulders of the entire citizenry; hence the need to build capacity at all levels in our nation.

A fundamental goal of capacity building which must at all times be seen as a product of the relentless labour of NGOs and CBOs is to enhance our ability to evaluate and address the crucial questions related to policy, choices and modes of implementation among development options, based on an understanding of the needs of the people. As a result, the need to strengthen national capacities must never be seen as a farfetched concept convenient only to discussions in passing. It is in this regard that we must commend the architects of this two day programme.

It is clear that as communities are forced to change, be it because of successes of the education revolution, increases in population, or drawbacks such as the infliction of deadly diseases such as AIDS or declines in some local industries, that central planners, policy makers and local groups in the community must work in harmony in order to manage the change, by adequately addressing the scope of the complex issues that affect the general way of life. This interaction at the community level is of first importance.

The youth of our nation constitute the largest and ablest sector of our national population. Hence the role that our youth will have to play is critical to any discussion on the importance of NGOs and CBOs to national development. It is therefore clear and without question that any government or non-government policy or action which seeks overtly or covertly to isolate or marginalize young people can only retard the development of a nation. Today our nation has in countless ways and through countless young persons and youth organisations exhibited that we will spare no effort in ensuring that the talents of our young people are positively engaged in the process of national development.

Let us continue to implement more youth engagement programs as this will be a practical contributor to the development of youth by fostering active citizenship. It will instill a sense of social responsibility where it is absent, and add some invigoration where some is already present, which will follow our youth into maturity. Many programs will achieve these aims by providing opportunities for capacity building and leadership, and by encouraging youth to develop a sense of self-awareness that is connected to a broader social awareness.

Community participation and support are critical to the sustainability and productivity of our youth as we attempt to build the structures which support our body politic. This element increases the motivation of our youth peer educators and parents, as well as the responsiveness to the group of persons that our youth would ultimately have to serve.

As an offshoot of our colonial history, our people have inherited many dimensions of poverty. However, the generations preceding emancipation exemplify that as a society, we are well able to flex our muscles of resiliency. It is in this regard that our youth must take a sense of direction. This is fundamental if we are to pass a legacy of resilience to the future generations of Vincentians to come.

Like slavery and apartheid, poverty and crime are man-made and they can be conquered and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Our Vincentian youth product must play an integral role in any such attempt. As youth we cannot be passive spectators of the effects of poverty and crime in our nation. We must begin to vigorously arrest this issue from the grassroots level.

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