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Caribbean youth in focus

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Every 21st Century Vincentian and by extension Caribbean youth must remain focused if he or she is to play a critical role in self, national and regional development. In order to move forward successfully, we must build practical skills and knowledge. Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, in his 2008 Budget address, was clear on the importance of the youth to national development when he stated: “The youth constitute fifty eight (58) percent of the population in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}} This large segment presents great challenges, but by the same token, magnificent opportunities for transforming our economy and society if we can channel this youthful vigor towards productive ends.”

Youth development has been defined as an ongoing growth process in which all youth should be engaged in attempting to, firstly, meet their basic personal and social needs to be safe, feel cared for, be valued, be useful, and be spiritually grounded. Secondly, to build skills and competencies that will allow us to function and contribute to our daily lives.

Our youth must engage themselves with technology. As a result, young people have opportunities to develop practical skills for the 21st century and become involved in a more global environment through the internet. Through technology, young people learn to conduct research and analyze information online. They develop practical computer skills, including web design, graphics, and presentation. It is a perfect means to participate in global discussions and become mentors and leaders to further contribute to our communities. Further, computer skills and knowledge can provide economic opportunities in areas where there are limited job possibilities. Technology and the internet also serve as an interactive curriculum tool for learning foreign languages, civics, and the diversity of our global village.

Henry Charles, the Regional Director of the Commonwealth Youth Programme -Caribbean Centre, made an excellent analysis of youth development in our region in a paper dated 8th October, 2007.

It was outlined that youth development in the Caribbean has assumed a far more complex and challenging character over the last two decades.

Prevailing economic, social and political ethos, as well as encroaching cultural influences, have not only conspired to undermine the capacity of the state to perform its role as a medium to facilitate economic and social justice, but has unfortunately contributed to the diminishing relevance of traditional modes of socialization and indeed the influence of institutions such as the state, family, church, schools and other symbols of social order.

Yet despite this ever changing and challenging socio-economic, socio-political and socio-cultural environment, none can honestly deny that many if not most young persons in the Caribbean have successfully managed the challenges posed by this new ethos. Many young people continue to make significant contributions to the development of their communities and societies.

However, there must be concern that disturbingly significant numbers of young people in some Caribbean states are increasingly becoming the victims of social injustice, social irresponsibility, and economic marginalization and an increasingly violent and dysfunctional political culture in some instances.

It is now well established that this prevailing socio-economic and, socio-political ethos is a major contributing factor to the escalating youth poverty and unemployment, and indeed many other social and political challenges, such as the high HIV/AIDS prevalence among young people, youth violence and crime, drug abuse and drug trafficking among the many other youth development challenges, which threaten to destroy the very fabric of our societies.

Outline of challenges faced by our youth

Henry Charles further outlined that, consequently, despite the significant contribution to development by most young people, the youth development landscape within the Caribbean is replete with manifestations of intense challenges among many young persons; increasing engagement of significant numbers of youth in risky behaviors; increasing apathy and disinterest in personal, family and national development; apparent exodus away from involvement in mainstream national and community based activities; disproportionate trends of poverty among urban youth as a percentage of the employable population, and the related increasing poverty of rural youth affected by the failure of traditional rural-based sources of livelihood; disturbing trends of disrespect and disregard for symbols of authority and officialdom; reported underachievement and escalating social exclusion of young males in the Caribbean region; disturbing trends of disrespect for the female gender; deep seated confusion in manifestation of their masculinities among many young males; social deviant behavior and symbols of criminality; adoption of non-traditional and often times controversial methods of expressing their frustrations, issues and concerns; increasing impatience with established procedure, processes and bureaucratic systems and structures; increasing involvement in and dependence on their own social systems and structures for recognition, kinship, sustenance, recreation and bonding; often times these systems are in direct conflict with mainstream social norms and regulations and present a direct challenge to the status quo. There are those who argue that many of these challenges are either the consequence of the pervasive influence of popular but usually socially degrading and often non-indigenous sub-cultures and norms or that these serve to exacerbate the problem.

Organizations and communities that promote positive youth development give youth the chance to exercise leadership, build skills, and get involved. The self-confidence, trust, and practical knowledge that young people gain from these opportunities help them to grow into healthy, happy, self-sufficient adults. As we move forward let us always be guided by a national interest. Let us fight for the development of our youth product, and in so doing, remember that our struggle is always a part of the general global struggle for youth empowerment.

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