I attended a youth-led workshop late last year and was refreshingly surprised by one of the presentations which highlighted the youth activism of our past Presidents and other well-known Guyanese personalities. Jagan, Burnham, Critchlow, Rodney and others were all youth activists before settling into their respective professions and/or political parties. Examples of their youth activism were cited, and documents referenced. This presentation was inspiring and I believe it helped to convey the message that the youth in attendance should continue to be active citizens constantly pushing for change. In other words they should not see their efforts as being in vain or as having no impact or only minimal impact.
Editor, there are some key variables that our national leaders and parties would do well to factor into their respective proposals for youth development. These include the current under-40 population which is estimated at 60% of the total. Another factor is that greater access to information has literally opened the eyes of many of our youths who have not set foot outside Guyana. It is clear that our youths are clamouring for better governance, self-development opportunities and participation at all levels of national and sectoral decision-making. Similarly there is a recognition by many young people that they do not need to belong to any political party to effect change; just observe the number of youth-led voluntary groups that have sprung up over the past few years in response to challenges like littering and environmental destruction, voter education, entrepreneurial development and so on. In these groupings you find the children of PPP, PNC, AFC and other national political groups working together to address shared concerns; you also find youth from various communities some of which traditionally vote in different directions working together. What is it after 48 years that our adults with all our credentials and qualifications cannot get? This baffles me.
I am happy to see Guyanese youths finding their voices, speaking and standing up not only for their rights, but also their aspirations. I certainly encourage more of this for it will benefit us now and in the generations to come.
From the University of Guyana students who are part of the efforts to transform administrative functions, the student experience, academic and teaching standards as well as academic facilities, to the young people calling for political and constitutional reform and those who are grassroots activists and change-makers in their communities volunteering their energies to upgrade living standards, to the recently established youth party contesting the May polls, it is clear that we need to harness this collective youth movement. To effectively leverage this energy and momentum young people need to be guided and supported by a programmatic approach to their engagement in society, from national, regional and local governance, to national development, politics, business, etc. In other words a non-negotiable component of any party’s programme must be to facilitate and provide opportunities for meaningful youth participation and leadership cultivation.
As I mentioned to a group of politically active youths at a workshop last year, youth development must be treated as non-political. We must not play politics with the lives of our youth; inevitably this will come back to bite us. In closing I would like to share a quote: “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him or her to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”