Full Disclosure
June 6, 2008
Youth work and community success

Our vision must be for all of our young people to have self ambition, to be confident individuals, effective contributors, successful learners and responsible citizens, and to be nurtured, safe, active, healthy, achieving, respected and responsible. Simply, youth work has a significant role to play in realizing this vision for young people.{{more}}

Youth work is provided primarily through voluntary community based organizations. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the implementation of a strategic plan to ensure the sustainability of community based organizations is critical, if we are to set the correct framework through which our youth can make a positive contribution through a system of voluntary participation and commitment. The Social Investment Fund has played an extremely important role thus far, and this has been buttressed by the persistent efforts of the government. However, we cannot pause here since there are numerous indicators that the groups which are being assisted have not yet been so equipped to take ownership of the process.

Youth work is critical to any drive towards the positive transformation of our society. Youth work is an educational and developmental process, based on young people’s active and voluntary participation and commitment. It is also often defined as non-formal education. Youth work is ideally for all young people, with particular focus on those generally under the age of twenty five years and from all aspects of life, whether it be urban or rural and irrespective of social class.

In light of this, youth work has a number of purposes. One significant result of the process is its ability to build the self-esteem and self-confidence of young people. It is in like manner that our youth would be able to develop their ability to manage personal and social relationships. Youth work provides learning opportunities to enable young people to gain knowledge and develop new skills. If we are to build young people’s capacity to consider risks and consequences and make informed decisions and take responsibility, there is a critical need to develop social awareness and a sense of social solidarity. This offers worthwhile and challenging new experiences, which in turn gives young people a voice in the decision-making process which will affect their lives. The end result is that it enhances young people’s role as active citizens within our ever-changing society.

Thus, with a focus on a process in which the active and critical participation of young people is essential, the methods adopted and the programmes and activities engaged in by youth workers and young people ought to be very diverse. The inclusion of recreation, sport and indoor and outdoor pursuits must, therefore, be ensured. Hence, it was very encouraging to hear that in a recent radio discussion with Marlon Joseph, Luke Brown, Michele Fife and Fidel Neverson on the general theme ‘Enhancing youth participation’, the numerous ways by which our youth can reposition themselves to succeed.

It was concluded that critical to the process is a need to foster a consciousness among ourselves, necessary to ensure sustainable and holistic development. In the process, there is a place for the arts and culture, including drama. Our youth must at an early age to establish a clear definition for citizenship, social action, youth participation, rights and equality issues, the environment, development education and politics. Issues touching and concerning welfare and well-being, including health promotion, relationships and sexuality, stress management, drugs, alcohol and smoking, must also be addressed and placed within a context of our evolving social environment.

The value of youth work as a reflective maturation of sacrifices made by our policy makers to expend a large proportion of our resources on the education of our young people is fundamental to the process of raising the confidence of individuals, their contribution to society, and their value as citizens. Any aim to empower young people must, therefore, evolve around equality and inclusion and respect for all young people, involvement of young people in decision-making, partnership and voluntary participation. It is in these environments that life skills, such as leadership, teamwork, planning and decision making, communication, problem solving, initiative and responsibility, critical analysis and creative and reflective thinking are developed.

Youth work adds value to the lives of all young people, helping them to develop lasting skills and attributes, and can particularly affect the lives of young people who are vulnerable or disadvantaged, or are most challenged by school. It can help to build confidence, provide role models, open up new experiences and give young people a sense of belonging. If we are to be successful from the community level upwards, then youth work is essential.

For young people, youth work should be educational and enjoyable, fulfilling and fun, giving them more opportunities and more options for the future. For our communities, youth work is about adults and young people working together, building community spirit and playing an active role in the development of our communities for the society. Youth work should be geared at tackling real social issues, combating social disadvantages and enhancing democratic life.

Clearly, there are several definitive features of youth work, but centrally it is about voluntary participation. Young people who are involved in youth work should be driven by an informed choice and by a cause that they want to do worthwhile, enjoyable things in their free time in the company of their friends and supportive adults. Youth work starts where young people are at and should by necessity be flexible and versatile in its approach. It starts with young people’s own interests and ambitions and helps them to expand their horizons. Youth work is about partnership. In youth work, the young people are active partners in making decisions, planning programmes, and setting priorities. In order for our interaction to be one of immense returns, the youth work relationship must be based on dialogue between young people and adults.

We must invite each other to this empowering process which provides one of the few settings where young people genuinely have the power to take decisions, follow them through and take responsibility for their consequences, all in a safe and supportive environment. Youth work is the bridge between dreaming and doing.

Saboto Caesar is a Lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator.