When Will the Voices of Our Youth Be Heard?

The empty seats in stands at the celebration of youth day tell the sad story.

I sat in a cubicle next to fellow STAR reporter Alisha Ally last week, Tuesday April 5, as she tried desperately to find out from various youth departments and agencies, just what was happening here in Saint Lucia for youth month, April 2011.  “What is going on for youth month this year?” she turned to me and asked. I chuckled and that alone may have given away my cynicism. But before I could respond, Ally went on to list a number of activities which have taken place here over the years to mark youth month, albeit not too many that stood out in any given year. The STAR reporter’s persistence paid off eventually when she got through to the Director of Youth and Sports Victor Reid.  Afterwards she mentioned to me that she had been directed by the Minister of Youth and Sports Lenard Montoute to speak to Reid on the matter, since the Minister himself seemed anxious to have his department finalize a program of activities for the month. In the end, the STAR was informed of a celebration of youth which would take place at the Vigie Sports Complex on April 14 (youth day), the launching of a TV program and newsletter and we were also promised a full program of activities later in the week, which midway into youth month still has not materialized.
So once again we are back to where we have been before, asking ourselves whether those we entrust to design and frame policies and programs for our young people and to implement them whilst facilitating the development of our youth, really care? Or maybe they do and just aren’t serious or dedicated enough? Or is it that after all the talk and political platform rhetoric and manifesto jargon about prioritizing our youth, that there is little time and resources for action? I could not help but wonder as well, how many of us are really aware that this is youth month, or for that matter international year of the youth, including those parliamentarians posing with babies, cats and dogs on Facebook? You know, those who continue to try to show a human face whilst their treatment of our youth continue to be unconscientious to say the least.
And so the charade continues, and in the midst of this there is something called a National Youth Council with a certain degree of ineptness and silence. This, even in the face of growing youth unemployment, lack of higher education opportunities and as after school programs and recreational facilities for young people are shamefully inadequate. This too, even as our education systems continues to foster elitism and favouritism amongst our young people and the education system, examples of which  have been highlighted in recent articles in the this newspaper.
I could not help but wonder what was going through the mind of Donavan Williams, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Social Transformation (an affable and sociable guy) and the NYC representative (a well spoken young man) as they sat under a tent at the Vigie multi purpose court Thursday April 14, youth day. It was a court that the late Romanus Lansiquot, who often tried to match his many words with some degree of action, had fought vigorously to have built. A court which today, no longer adequately serves the needs of the youth of Central Castries and surrounding areas, particularly if they do not have the means to pay for its usage. But back to my state of stupor and questioning, which caused me to wonder if the two gentlemen mentioned were genuinely proud that at least on the day in question, something was being done to celebrate youth month? Or were they painfully ashamed, that once again we are failing the youth by staging for them poor quality events that most of them are really not interested in? And why was the turn out on Thursday so poor? Why is it that young DJ’s like Scady and Levi Chin can attract more young people to a venue at their events and an entire Government Youth Department funded by taxpayers cannot attract a small fraction of that youth population to an event at the Vigie Sports Complex?
Two days before the said event, the STAR received a release which stated “Youth Month in Saint Lucia is celebrated throughout the month of April while National Youth Day is celebrated annually on the 14th April.” Well the second part may be true but as for the celebrations being throughout the month of April, maybe only in someone’s head. The release went on to say that in recognition of this (youth month) the Ministry of Social Transformation, Youth and Sports would stage an Inspirational Celebration of Youth which coincides with the celebration of Youth Day on Thursday 14th April 2011, from 9:30am to 1:00om at the Vigie Complex. “This activity aims to showcase the positive talent which exists among our youth,” the statement continued.
Ahead of this somehow, this youth event may have slipped from my social media radar as I saw nothing about it on Facebook, Twitter, BBM, nor was I exposed to any media advertising—not even on the state owned NTN.
But I acquiesced to the request to attend, deliberately arriving late so as not to be bored with another speech by a Government official pontificating on what they have done for the youth or are planning to do. But I was there in time to witness once again the abundance of talent here in Saint Lucia which is left on the shelf of the land of the forgotten youth, to rot away. These included the 2010 Youth fest winners Malana Stephen, Michael Robinson and Deshawn Augustin. Hosted by the CARICOM youth ambassador Nintus, the event also featured poet Dantes Stephen, Youth on Fire Ministries, Zaina Williams and dancers from various schools.
Unfortunately as wonderful as they all were, the performers had to perform to nearly empty stands, nothing like the thousands bused by the politicians to their various political rallies for free t-shirts, chicken and rum. To say that the event was a grand flop would be stating the obvious.
I later checked with a few school officials as to their schools non-participation and some actually told the STAR that they were unaware of the activity.  Other schools told us that they already had their own end of term activities planned which their students were looking forward to, whilst for others in the out-districts the cost of transportation for their students to attend was prohibitive. But besides the schools, a number of the nation’s youth, community and uniformed groups were also absent.
With less than two weeks to go before the end of youth month, those in authority have little time to redeem themselves and it seems highly unlikely that anything meaningful will happen for youth month before April 30th. Their consolation (or is it excuse) might be that this being the International Year of The Youth, there is still time, to save face in the eyes of an anxious, restless, depressed and neglected youth population, whom the UN has chosen to give a voice this year.
The United Nations proclaimed last year that International Year of Youth would run from 12 August 2010 to 11 August 2011, in an effort to harness the energy, imagination and initiative of the world’s youth in overcoming the challenges facing humankind, from enhancing peace to boosting economic development.
In its resolution proclaiming the Year, the General Assembly called on governments, civil society, individuals and communities worldwide to support activities at local and international levels to mark this year which aims to encourage dialogue and understanding across generations and promote the ideals of peace, respect for human rights and freedoms, and solidarity.
It also encourages young people to dedicate themselves to fostering progress, including the attainment of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to slash a host of social ills, ranging from extreme poverty and hunger to maternal and infant mortality to lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015.
The official slogan for the International Year of Youth (IYY) is: Our Year. Our Voice. Is there anyone out there bold enough to start listening to the voice of the youth and react with action, commitment, goodwill and resources and not just more talk?

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