Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Jamaica, youth is certainly NOT wasted on the young*

(*with apologies to George Bernard Shaw)

Each week, one way or another, I am reminded of the tremendous strengths of Jamaica and the challenges it faces. There were several reminders this week whilst I attended a youth conference.
Yute X 2010 brought together over 300 youth to discuss participation and advocacy.

“Fulticipate to Elevate: Enhancing development Through Youth Participation” ,

the second biennial conference was presented by Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network with the support of UNICEF, USAID, ASHE, Jamaica National, and others. I attended two of the three days of the conference and was once again impressed by the intelligence, thoughtfulness and how informed and articulate the youth of Jamaica are. And, despite the very serious nature of the discussions, they bring an exuberance and enthusiasm that is often demonstrated through song, dance and entertainment! As I have noted before song and performance are an integral part of every event here and the youth did not disappoint. From the spontaneous singing as they set up in the morning to the formal presentations and performances scheduled as part of the programme, the talent demonstrated was remarkable.

There were some illuminating and telling moments. At one of the plenary sessions the presenter – a government planning representative describing Vision 2030 – asked the audience to raise their hands to indicate how many, if they received a visa tomorrow, would leave Jamaica and migrate. Without hesitation about 75% of the conference participants raised their hands. What a statement - to see so many of the young people, who talk proudly of what Jamaica could be in the world, so disenchanted with the current trajectory that, given the opportunity, they would leave without hesitation.
At another plenary session the presenter, an adult Youth Advocacy Network promoter, asked how many of the audience thought things would improve if youth attended church more regularly. About 80% raised their hands. The role of Christianity, and particularly the old testament, is enormously influential.

I was responsible for moderating the opening plenary for Day Two. The prospect was a little daunting - promoting and managing discussion between 300+ adolescents at 9 in the morning! However, the session demonstrated I had no reason to be concerned. The topic under discussion was the vulnerability of young people with respect to crime and violence. The presentations were moving and there was more discussion from the floor than the time permitted. One of the striking aspects of the discussion was that these young people were willing and clear about the responsibility they have in contributing to the issue. They would not allow excuses to be made for the high levels of youth involvement in crime. But, they are demanding that the adults making decisions also take responsibility for the the demise they have promoted by the corruption and the need to maintain power for the privileged few.
The days were full of stories, some uplifting, many very troubling but all insightful and presented articulately. The government here garners little respect from these young people. They are conscious of the links between their communities' difficulties and those elected to represent them. With respect and apologies to George Bernard Shaw, what seems clear is that adults waste what the young have to offer!

The evening drive back from Montega Bay last Sunday was even more spectacular than anticipated. As we drove east along the north coast road the daylight faded, the sun set behind us, and in front of us a full moon rose over the Caribbean Sea. The brightness of the moon, bright enough to cast shadows, reflected off the water and lit up the road, the small towns and coast line through which we travelled. The occasional cloud that obscured the moon only served to increase its beauty as the rays shone through and from behind them. With waves breaking onto the shore to the left and the outline of the mountains rising to the right, palm trees clattering in the breeze and the warm, fragrant air through the open windows, it was a wonderful end to the weekend and restorative in preparation for the week to come!
Having been away last weekend, this week I have stayed close to home enjoying time with friends and colleagues in the city and, as planning for Christmas gets into full swing, I think other travels will be limited for the moment.

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