Full Disclosure
August 8, 2008
Youth as active citizens

The maintenance of the structures within a democratic society relies upon its citizens being aware of their rights and responsibilities, informed about the social and political world in which they live, the welfare of others, and an opportunity to articulate their opinion and arguments so that they can influence the circumstances around them.{{more}}

It is in this light, that the question must be asked: Are our young people showing a disinterest and opting out of community involvement, and by extension neglecting to take their roles as active citizens? If the question is answered in the negative, then this is a call for our young people to get on board!

Last week Thursday July 31, on the eve of Emancipation Day, I had the opportunity to participate in an Emancipation vigil hosted by the Diamonities youth group. It was extremely interesting to see the level of commitment and dedication portrayed by the youth of this small rural community, to organise an event to raise the consciousness of the community as it relates to aspects of freedom and emancipation. There are groups such as La Gracia and Garifuna dancers among others which are doing an excellent job in mobilising our youth. It is in this regard that we must always urge our youth to boldly take the lead from where our seniors would have positively directed.

In order for our youth to be successful, a keen interest must be generated and maintained for an enhancement in group interaction, which is carefully geared at creating the levels of participation needed to fuel a democracy. It is always an issue among the youth that their efforts are usually shot down since their first steps to contributing are measured against perfections not even attained by those who would have built Roman Empires of old. As our young people strive, we must ensure that the necessary support mechanisms are in place to encourage and not to discourage their efforts.

In many aspects of our national development, there appears to be an unnatural disconnect between central government projects and ownership of these projects by citizens at all levels. Here resides a perfect area that can become the focus of our youth. It is a typical case in point that our citizens do not readily appreciate projects such as playing fields, resource centres, and our school structure, as being ‘our business.’ Instead, it is seen solely as being the business of the party in power or the area representative. We must begin to create a keener interest among our youth geared at showing ownership to such projects, since it is only then that we would be able to fully utilise in any creative manner the fullness of these resources. The effort must at all times be collective, since one outspoken youth cannot singlehandedly light all the torches needed to be lit. The role of community based organisations is central to this process.

A decline in community involvement by our youth has been identified by many as a challenge facing our community. The prime reason being that community involvement has to compete with modern distractions such as cable TV, internet surfing, video games, among others which are constantly competing with the need to build strong community groups for the benefit of all. It is therefore safe to suggest that our society is witnessing an evolution from a collective type oriented socialisation to one which is individualistic for the most part. A balance is needed!

A recent survey in the United States of America on the decline in social capital of communal activity identified significant reductions not only in areas of voting and standing for honouring positions, but also virtually all leisure activities that involve doing something with someone else from the community.

If we are to bring about a positive change in our society, we must begin with the very young at the primary school level. It is significant that those between ages 4 to 10 are encouraged to develop self esteem, confidence, independence and responsibility, and making the most of their abilities. This is important in preparing them to play their role as citizens, developing healthy lifestyles, and ensuring that there is a clear understanding of the values of our society.

By way of solution, an effective mentorship programme be it formal or informal, organised and administered by the elders in our community should be advocated, so that our youth can be taught about many of the forgotten basics of community life. Secondly, our community based organisations must take ownership of the process of making active citizens of our young people, and thirdly this must be cemented by a concerted effort by the Ministry of Youth Affairs to create the requisite framework and support structures within which this process must operate. Our country is ripe for a national youth forum.