WE’RE already in the middle of Youth Month and this year’s observance of the annual month-long calendar of activities has come under sharper scrutiny. That the recent spate of gun violence resulting in the death of five people seemingly has young fingerprints all over it, is as much regrettable as it is worrying.
In fact, Youth Month seems to have ushered in the good with the bad as far as our youths are concerned. Reports are that this year’s Youth Parliament produced yet again more easily-understood, respectable and intelligent discussions than the other debates elected Members of Parliament try to make up as they go along in the House of Assembly. Even Youth Explosion, held on March 28, showed how talented and creative our young people can be when they stick to being good citizens out to make a positive difference.
But the bad things that young people are being accused of, especially in the past three or so weeks, have left us scratching our heads, no doubt. That young trigger-happy youths are in our midst does not bode well for a society that seemingly shapes its policies targeted primarily at that demographic. If truly, the future rests in the hands of our youth, then we definitely shouldn’t have to envisage criminals being the gatekeepers of that future.
I posed the question to Director of Youth and Sports, Jim Xavier, last Monday. He said that despite budget cuts that have affected programmes targeting the youth, there continues to be a strong effort to keep them on the right track. He said that despite that shortcoming, parents and the wider community need to join the thrust to ensure that programmes targeting youth are implemented and sustained.
“If (everyone) works together, then we could see a greater dent in youth violence, (resulting) in crime reduction. We would also see better deportment in attitudes among our young people and a better Saint Lucia,” Xavier said.
Xavier said his department works with various youth organizations around the country in an attempt to keep young people focused on positive endeavours. However, he said, the challenge lies in getting more youths to join clubs, organizations and associations. Nevertheless, he said, his department does go after those youths who refuse to become registered albeit more resources are needed to be expended to get them involved and cater to their specific needs.
While sports is not the cure-all to keep young people out of trouble, it seems that while many are eager to take up acting classes and showcase their talents on the stage, many are bold enough to act the fool and express their bravado on our streets. The island is replete with young people honing their poetic and other artistic expressions. Mention groups like Fundamentals and Youth on Fire Ministry from Anse la Raye and some people get goosebumps. Groups like Twisted and Untitled 51 just get under your skin. Such is the artistic talents we have among us that compete for the attention juvenile crime wants to dominate.
Unemployment among the youth is said to be in the 40% range, depending on which political party is quoting the figures. That leaves a lot of young people with too much time on their hands to do either good or bad. The key strategy that needs to be employed here is to continue trying our utmost to create opportunities for our youths. The cruise ship employment programme seems to be working wonders for many of our youths despite a handful of them jeopardizing their chances at legal income some weeks ago. We need more programmes like that and the Venezuelan government has made a commitment to provide funding to facilitate job creation among our youth. That kind of assistance deserves a great measure of praise in many ways.
For any youngster reading this, if you take nothing away from the article, take this: that the choices you make – whatever the size – can have either a meaningful or detrimental impact on your future. Many of you are currently preparing for your CSEC examinations and I wish you well. I wouldn’t consider myself over the hill just yet, but I do remember being you: nervously cramming those mathematics formulas last-minute before getting into that examination room so that I could make my mother proud. I’m a father now and I find myself impressing upon my daughters that they need to value a good education as much as they value their lives.
To the unemployed youth still thinking that the easiest way to make a living is by taking illegal shortcuts, I would suggest that you find some quiet time and do some serious self-analysis. Whatever stains you would have racked up on your character thus far, there is never a bad time to do something right and change for the better. There are many programmes and opportunities that you can benefit from, many of them that you can create yourselves. Many of you have a great intellect, so you just need to associate yourselves with the right people who can keep you focused on being good, productive citizens.
I might be late in doing this but I wish every Saint Lucian youth a safe, reflective and productive Youth Month. I pray that you find the courage and passion to keep your chins up even when the world looks down on you. I trust that you will use the current climate that sees the good and bad competing for your involvement and attention to choose to do what’s right. If you asked me, your future and ours depend on you.