As I thought about what to write for this week’s article, I decided to take a second look at the last article click here written by the founder/manager of Ujima Solutions, Claytine Nisbett. She wrote eloquently and passionately about the concept of UJIMA, “collective work and responsibility”: To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together” and how it reignited her desire for youth development within her community work.
While reading the article I felt the passion for politics begin to stir within me and my thoughts centred on the concept of nation building. I thought of how critical it is for the youth of a nation to be guided, mentored and equipped to help with such a task, not only for the present but for future generations.
You may ask ‘what is nation building and what do the youth have to do with it?’. Well let us first clarify nation building. Here we aren’t only talking about building roads or sky scrapers. We are describing having a vision for the countries within which we are born and doing all we can to see that vision come to fruition. Nation building can be defined as “The development of behaviours, values, language, institutions, and physical structures that elucidate history and culture, concretize and protect the present, and ensure the future identity and independence of a nation”. In essence the values of the people, the institutions we build reflect the nature of the people, their history and culture and doing all that one can to preserve it for future generations. Keeping this and Ujima in mind, let us take a look at why the youth are critical to nation building.
Firstly, we have to decide what we are trying to build in the Caribbean. Many of the nations in the region are very young with the eldest being 51 (Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago) and the youngest being 30 (St. Kitts & Nevis). Therefore we are still at the infancy stages in our development which has been staggered in its growth at times by political, economic, social and environmental stresses. In addition, we are trying to keep up with an international system that constantly changes the rules of play which mostly never favour islands. In light of all this, we are still trying to build island nations that live strong to the true definition of independence while being viable places to live, work and play for its people, giving full advantage of all the world offers.
In order to do this, the youth must play a critical role. I often wonder why young people are used as ‘political chess pieces’ by political parties or politicians. It seems that the youth are only important when election time comes around and everyone wants to be seen as ‘having the youth vote’. Checkmate!
The region’s youth are faced with a number of challenges such as high unemployment, exposure to criminal and gang activities, abuse in all its forms, lack of mentorship and there is the ever present ‘let’s bash the youth because they are the reason for all the ills in our society’ mentality. Contrary to this belief, the youth bring energy, passion and excitement to the table but they also bring skills, innovative ideas and new ways of getting the job done. They are better equipped to use technology in creating much needed products and services and can use it to carve out niches for themselves. They know how things can get done efficiently and in that way can lead to solving the problems of the present so they are not problems of the future. A country would benefit greatly from this so how can we then dismiss them for being too young? How can we attempt to place them in a box and force them to follow the status quo? Isn’t that what is already killing creativity and productivity in this region?
I maintain that a nation can only enhance its development if its youth are guided in the right direction. They need to be mentored and given the tools of education and technical skills necessary to achieve this. Most importantly, an atmosphere must be created where the youth can feel that they are a part of something larger than themselves, in which they have an integral role and that they are more than pawns in the 5 year political game. If we cannot excite our young people to not only be partakers of the fruits of other people’s labour but to actively create something that is lasting for future generations then how much further can our islands develop? If we cannot inspire them to stay and build, will we only have nations of elderly people in 50 years to come? Though it may sound cliché, young people are more than votes, they are the future and we must do all we can to secure them!
Deswyn Haynes is a regionalist with special interest in international relations and issues of the environment. She holds a B.Sc. in Political Science from the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill and is currently pursuing a M.Sc. in Integration Studies. When she isn’t travelling across the Caribbean, she spends most of her time involved in church activities and enjoying island life in Barbados.