Full Disclosure
February 22, 2008
Capacity building and youth development

The youth of our nation constitute the largest and ablest sector of our national population. As our society becomes driven by fast-paced technology and quick gratification in many instances, convincing today’s youth to participate in long-term projects such as community development becomes more challenging than ever. What does it take to keep young people interested in their communities, and what can adults do to assist them in continuing the legacy that has transformed communities nationwide?{{more}}

Throughout the nation, many community development organizations and initiatives are reaping the benefits of youth involvement in their work: deeper engagement with the communities they serve, reenergized staff and volunteers, and unique insights that give their work greater impact.

Firstly, adult participants must quickly develop a sense of when to help fix a problem, when to allow the youth to do it on their own and when the solution should be found together. Youth need to go through the learning that comes from success and failure but not at the cost of feeling that they have been abandoned or are being controlled by adults.

All youth-based projects must, therefore, ensure that there is a self-help machinery which allows members to deal with personal issues at the same time they are dealing with the larger community issues.

If we are to harness the human capital readily available from our youth, there must be the appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that relationships are forged on the basis of principles such as partnership through open communication, trustworthiness, mutual respect, reciprocity, and adult support or facilitation.

Project coordinators must, therefore, be put in place who would meet youth needs for leadership development, creating supportive youth networks, building or supporting family and community networks, fostering spiritual and cultural development and providing role-model opportunities.

The gathering of information can be an empowering activity for youth. Youth should be involved in all phases of assessing needs, planning, implementation and evaluation. This has been a proven challenge for many youth organizations throughout Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Many youth involved with community groups have a personal history of dealing with survival needs. As such, they have had to live in the present and may lack skills in planning for the future. These skills should be developed.

Many youth will have a long history of living without conventional rules or structure. They may find it difficult to be involved in a structured environment. Projects are, therefore, needed which will find a way to accommodate our youth within the requisite structure important to move the group forward and keep the adults involved.

A group process should provide our youth with a sense of ease and security, group solidarity, friendship, training in social skills, opportunities to express opinions and make decisions, and activities in which they are interested.

A good group leader should be willing to bring sensitive issues to the surface so that the group can become a reflection of the real needs of our community. Sensitive issues include conflict or differences of opinion, unacceptable conduct, and counterproductive behavior. Talking circles are an effective way to start discussions on sensitive issues.

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. It is in this sense that open discussion about the cultural differences between adults and youth should be a regular part of the group’s development.

There must be the formation of smaller groups within the larger groups, particularly among youth members. This is often a positive development which is healthy for the members, since these smaller groups may provide a less threatening environment for some of our youth.

One of the most important functions of the group is to provide a place for youth to discuss the issues affecting them. There are many challenges that we will face as youth. However, the greater the challenges, the harder we must work; the greater the challenges, the more we must also read and think. The greater the challenges, the more we must remember that we possess the requisite talent, the brain power, and most of the resources to get the job done.

Structure is needed by youth to help them feel safe and secure; but for some, too much structure can be a negative reminder of experiences they may have had in family, school or jobs, and more negatively of structures that may have failed. Therefore, a balance is required by the group between its structure and flexibility. This is a judgment call by the project coordinator.

The basic and immediate needs of youth have to be met in the work or activities of the group; otherwise, those youth who are not motivated may return to street life where the gratifications are more immediate.

The practical needs of the group’s youth members should be considered, including arranging transportation to and from meetings; holding meetings and events in a safe location; having lots of food available with as much choice as possible; making a good support system available for their attendance, for example including parents, peers, family and schools.

All projects must provide opportunities for youth to deal with their personal issues. The extent to which this is necessary depends on the type of youth involved.

Group development must be a planned process, pushing advancement at each stage and introducing skill development and training faster than the group knows it needs it. Youth have little patience for the chaos which sometimes happens during the early stages of group growth in adult groups, but we must not give up.

May God richly bless the efforts of the youth of our nation, and the persons who have confidence in them.