There is a stark divide in Guyana’s youth population today; referencing young people aged 15 to 24 years. There are those—the larger group—who struggle with the vicissitudes of life: abuse, neglect, illiteracy, lack of opportunity, among other things. They are plagued by restlessness and lack of purpose; some attempt or succeed at suicide. There are others who soar to great heights academically or in the arts or sports fields and are celebrated in some fashion or other.
Worldwide, this same youth cohort is estimated at 1.2 billion people and according to information prefacing a toolkit developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 88 percent of these young people live in developing countries; the numbers are expected to double in the least developed countries. The Development Centre of the OECD has been implementing a project focused on youth inclusion in ten developing countries for the past three years, in collaboration with the European Union.
The toolkit: ‘Evidence-based Policy Making for Youth Well-being,’ noted that these young people are the world’s next generation and a unique asset. “If properly nurtured, they can act as engines for economic and social progress,” it added. It is not as simple as it sounds. What is needed foremost for effective nurturing to take place is political will.
Nearly every country in the world has some form of national youth policy. But young people will not advance in their numbers to take up their rightful places in society if these policies just look good on paper. Unfortunately, in many instances, they do lack efficacy and disadvantaged youth, who would benefit most from nurturing, are left behind.
The fracture in Guyana’s youth population is evidence of policy failure. For decades there has been lack of proper investment in education and empowerment, skills training for employment and entrepreneurship, access to healthcare and allowance for civic participation, as well as inclusion in decision-making at the political level. The resulting disconnect has cultivated apathy, harboured ill will and led to crime; none of these are words that should be associated with youth. There is not much that is different today.
Furthermore, there is a distinct lack of positive role models to fill the gap left by failing policies. Those who model fair play, inclusiveness, flexibility, empathy, energy, commitment and country before self are seen as weak; not fit and proper and are shot down rather than given the opportunity to lead. What then can there be but despair if lack of character, lack of integrity, unwillingness to compromise, lack of humility, licentiousness, avarice and egotism are the prime examples to be imitated? The vicious cycle is clearly spinning too quickly and offers no opportunity to dismount.
Chaos looms in the fact that discouraged youth grow into dysfunctional adults. For the most part, the high-flyers choose not to be part of the chaos. Their exceptional talents make them welcome almost anywhere in the world. Invariably, they opt to live where there is order, where rules are followed, laws upheld and everyone is subject to accountability. Meanwhile, the die-hard patriots among them attempt to be the solution to what is clearly the worst-case scenario. Whether they will succeed or succumb cannot be foretold.
This has been Guyana’s story for far too long and if there is to be any real progress the narrative will have to change and swiftly. It is not possible to develop a country without human resources. Oil cannot take itself out of the ocean bed and what the ExxonMobil find has also brought to the surface is the dire lack of those resources existing here. Foreign hires, even of Guyanese resident overseas, simply means that more money will leave the local economy. It is not rocket science, but it may as well be for all the notice that is being paid to such issues.
One has to believe, however, even in such trying times that all is not lost and that somehow just in the nick of time, there will be a turnaround that will see a change in the imbalance in youth investment that will eventually redound to the benefit of all. It just has to happen, if there is to any chance for a future. Something has got to give.