(Excerpts of Senator Shevern John’s Presentation at the Young Demz Convention)
What an excellent topic we are addressing today! ‘My Decision, My Future’! Stay with me over the next few minutes, so I can humbly share with you my interpretation of the topic. Then, I will provoke and challenge you to recognize that it is ‘Your Decision and Your Future’, so you must not take it lightly.
Every now and then (sometimes more often than we wish) someone will ask us: “How are you doing and what are doing with your life?” To be asked that question is a privilege. It means that the person asking the question recognizes that you have a life ahead of you. It also implies that they see you as being responsible for much of what would eventually happen in your future. It is why young people are generally asked this question.
These may be clichéd sayings but they are true: ‘Young People are the future’; and there is this one, the one I love the most; ‘Youth, the Present Answer to the Future’. How many of you here are familiar with that motto? Sadly, I believe none of you. ‘Youth, the Present Answer to the Future’ is the registered motto of the then St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Youth Council.
The National Youth Council in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been dormant for more than 15 years now. It is a crying shame that in a country with the majority of the population being young people, there is not an active Youth Council. It is a crying shame that the powers that be have seemingly, systematically dismantled our once vibrant National Youth Council, so they can continue to suppress and abuse the youths of this nation. It is the National Youth Council that modeled most of our national leaders including current Ministers of Government. Brother Israel Bruce stands testament to that as a former President of the National Youth Council.
Many of our schools still don’t have Student Councils and we certainly don’t have a National Student Council. These were very active organizations under the New Democratic Party (NDP) administration. This current NDP understands and recognizes the importance of these organizations and will make it a priority to re-establish these bodies and support them when we are elected into government, when the next General Elections are called.
It is important for you to understand why efforts are made to suppress you and diminish your future. Do you know that the celebration of March 14 as National Heroes Day is because of the strong effort of the National Youth Council? You may not remember, but we celebrated Discovery Day on Jan 22. Led by the National Youth Council, students turned up to school on Jan 22 in defiance. I can name many other accomplishments as a result of Youth Activism…something that NDP has a track record of encouraging.
According to the European Union, youth organizations do several things for young people. Listen to this and ask yourself whether there is an organization currently operating in SVG that performs these duties.
Firstly, ‘youth organizations focus on promoting and ensuring young people’s democratic and social rights’; secondly, youth organizations encourage ‘social and political participation at all levels in community life’: finally, these organizations offer ‘opportunities for personal and social development through leisure activities, voluntary engagement, and non-formal and informal learning’.
It is very critical that you make sound decisions about the organizations you align yourselves to. I would therefore offer some guidance, as I attempt to build on the European position and posit three (3) Principles of Youth Participation that should guide an organization that is responsible for young people’s lives. Young Demz, this is your measuring stick to determine which organizations are for you. They must embody all three! They should not have one and not the other two. That is a failing grade. The only passing grade is to have all three traits.
Organizational Commitment: This means that the organization is not only using words, but that it makes a deliberate effort to appoint youths to decision making positions. You are not just a rubber stamp.
A Safe space is created for Youth Involvement: Participation within is accessible, and you are allowed to bring your varying diversity. And, a Youth Friendly environment that is Safe, Respectful and Positive.
Youth participation strengthens community capacity. Giving young people a place in decision-making builds a broader base of citizen involvement and creates stronger, more inclusive communities. Youth participation is necessary in the development of active citizenship because it balances young people’s social rights with their responsibilities.
Youth participation contributes to positive youth development. Research has shown that young people who are supported to participate in decision-making are more likely to have increased confidence and self-belief, exercise positive career choices and have greater involvement and responsibility in the future.
Youth participation enhances relationships with young people. Youth participation challenges negative stereotypes of young people and help break down barriers between older adults and young people. Involving young people in decision-making, can improve understanding about young people and create a greater awareness of youth issues in any organization.
Our beloved St. Vincent and the Grenadines is currently plagued with so many social and economic ills that directly and indirectly affect our young people: unemployment, poverty, crimes, poor health care, problems in the education sector, hopelessness and despondency, and I can go on.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has record high unemployment. It is highest among young people under age 25. Our productive sector which is primarily made up of the youth is forced to migrate or seek employment out of SVG. It is almost as if you can never expect to elevate yourself in this country.
Our young people are being exploited and “sexploited”. This has to stop! The government has grown arrogant and lazy, and convinced that they are always right and accepts no criticism. This has to stop.