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Youth.Empowerment.Sustainability!

October 12, 2013

:: by Anika Harford ::

“Any society that does not succeed in tapping into the energy and creativity of its youth will be left behind.”   – Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Painting by Natiq Jalil

Painting by Natiq Jalil

 

Embracing opportunities that change your life is by far the most rewarding experience one can have. On July 4 2013, I travelled to Nadi, Fiji to attend the “My World, My SIDS: Youth.Empowerment.Sustainability” Conference. Not knowing what to expect, I went with an open mind ready to listen and learn. For those that might not be familiar with the acronym, SIDS stands for Small Island Developing States. Collectively, we represent all the islands across three geographic regions: the Caribbean, Pacific and Africa, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea (AIMS).

I had the opportunity to meet a small group of motivated and dedicated youth from the Pacific and it was through their experiences and active voice, I was able to find mine. Youth as young as 18 years old were heavily involved in shaping the development of their small islands and I couldn’t help but wonder why this passion was only faintly present throughout the Caribbean.

Year after year, as young Caribbean youth, we witness politicians win elections without even whispering a word about their mandate and the actual change they intend to bring. We see youth fall victim to a sense of dependency and lack forms of self empowerment and motivation. We continue to see an increase in numbers of youth participating in education systems which are failing to adapt to a changing environment without much resistance. Whether we accept their truth or not, we seem to be comfortable with a certain level of normalcy and rarely grasp windows of opportunity for us to initiate transformation and change.

The SIDS Youth conference provided me with the platform to reflect on my vision for development in Grenada, the Caribbean and all other small islands. It began by giving me the opportunity to vote for the future I want through the MY World Global Survey. I invite you to participate as well. As I continue along my journey of conceptualizing the contribution that I intend to make, I keep in mind my vision.

Investing in quality education for youth lies at the heart of my vision and I am dedicated to ensuring that we learn ways of demanding more from our education system. As small island developing states (SIDS), we face special challenges due to our economic size and limited resources. Climate change will exacerbate our vulnerability if we do not learn to adapt. In our schools, education for sustainability should be our overarching objective. Sharing the tools and critical thinking skills that youth require to make valuable contributions to our development must become the norm. We must ensure that a nurturing environment is provided for our youth to learn about the challenges that we face so they can begin thinking about creative solutions.

To tackle this, we have to create a solid foundation – an active and vocal youth movement with a common goal, willing to participate and to be the change we want to see in our communities, on our islands and across the world. I believe more than ever, that as Caribbean Youth we need to regain our voice. We need to ensure that we make ourselves heard and make our governments hear us. We need to refuse to be bystanders in our development process and insist on taking an active and significant role.

To break it down in layman terms, this is what I believe we need to do. This is what I want us to do especially in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. First and foremost, we have to put mechanisms in place that will provide a space for collaboration. Engaging ALL schools and youth groups across the island to create our very first National Youth Council (NYC) must be our number one priority. Let’s sit under a mango tree if we have to and hash out each and every issue that we want to see addressed. Not only addressed by our governments and other stakeholders but also by ourselves. Expecting the government to be “fixer” is a mentality that we need to break and instead we need to “get-up and get” and be committed to becoming partners in the solution. My vision of a functioning NYC in Grenada is not one that will be created by cherry-picking the youngest and the brightest but instead everyone should have the opportunity to become engaged and involved. Everyone should have a say as to how it should be formed, structured and its mandate. Indeed, we need leaders but those leaders should be voted in through a democratic process that we’ve all contributed to. Most importantly, it must be youth-driven!

SIDS Youth

Secondly, our next step is to push for regular youth engagement consultations with our government and all other actors. Everyday I sit and wonder, why do we not have a say in the investment deals that are struck? Why do we not have a seat at the table? Why are our opinions never sought? Some may argue that its because we are young and still have a lot to learn but I argue its because we have never demanded it. We may be young and indeed we still have a lot to learn but on the flip side, we have a hell of a lot to contribute. Instead of continuing “closed door processes”, youth should be welcomed and built to take on the future roles that await us.

As a young motivated woman, there are numerous issues that I am passionate about working on. Ranging from the environment, to the extensive gender inequality issues that plague us, all the way down to renewing the social contract we have forged with the state BUT we must begin somewhere. In my opinion, it starts with our people, with our youth, the human beings that define Grenada. Giving us a platform to excel is what we currently lack and deserves full attention. We also need to work tirelessly at building ONE VOICE. Yes we are all passionate about different issues, different concerns but if we continue to stay divided along those lines and only push for what we ‘personally’ care about and are invested in, we miss the opportunity to effect real change across various themes and will continue to underestimate the strength that can be gained in numbers.

With all our voice and abilities, I firmly believe that we can work as partners in sustainable small island development and assist in charting our future. This is only the beginning of a long road ahead but if island youth from three diverse yet similar regions can come together to produce a powerful and strong stance about the future we want, what is stopping us within our islands from doing the same?

 

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Anika_HarfordAnika Harford
Anika is currently completing her Masters in Global Affairs with a Collaborative Program in Environmental Studies at the University of Toronto. She is interested in issues related to youth development, the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), risk management approaches to climate change and natural disasters and its gendered dimensions and implications.

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