Advocating for Safe Spaces for Youth

Dear Editor, 

 Globally, August 12th is celebrated by not-for-profit organizations, international charitable entities and governments as “International Youth Day”. Since its conception in 1999, the United Nations has released a different theme for the day. This year’s theme is “Safe Spaces for Youth”.

Personally, observances like these can provide organisations and individuals with the opportunity to facilitate conversations that can hopefully turn into action. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that is often practiced. With every observance, people will wear the assigned colour for the day, upload a status, talk about the importance of the day and then, well that’s it.

Similarly, observances like breast cancer awareness walk will have many persons wearing pink and talk about getting checked up. Are we doing this year round or we only advocating to “fit into the crowd”? I love this year’s International Youth Day theme. It is true that young people need a safe space.

In fact, this safe space can enable them to learn more about others and themselves. How can we make spaces safe? Firstly, you need to have someone who would be known as the facilitator there. Before having this person there, you need to know if this person has had previous criminal activity or if they are involved in “suspicious activity”. Suspicious activity is purposely written vaguely since we can’t necessarily determine from looking at a person if they are a pedophile or not. This is why it is important to properly vet persons for positions like this.

 In addition to this, computers and Wi-Fi should be available to allow young people to communicate and connect with others. Anywhere can be a space for young people, but can it be safe? On July 10th, the Department of Public Information released an article where the Minister of Youth pledged her support in establishing youth spaces countrywide.

Although I applaud this initiative, we need to be realistic. As I said before, anywhere can be a youth space, but what provisions are we making for young people to have a space where they can learn and be themselves? Will these youth spaces be accessible to disabled youth and youth of different races?

When it comes to the safety of young people, we need to engage older persons too. Bridging the generational gap can be difficult depending on the persons. The population of youth is expanding. Advocates for Youth’s annual statistics reveal that “Young people and children comprise of 40 percent of the world’s population”.

In Guyana, many young people are at a disadvantage, as it’s difficult for them to find jobs. Young people are either over or under qualified. Poverty has a ripple effect on young people struggling with their future, hence the crime rate in Guyana is heavily populated with young people or as people like to call them, “de ghetto yutes”

Training workshops are held but these are hardly ever publicly mentioned since many of them are facilitated by organisations with a certain aim for their desired audience.

This letter is dedicated to the hopeless Guyanese youth. I know you may feel that your life isn’t what you wanted it to be. Those feelings should not drown you into becoming everything you hate. We have to be stronger than the thoughts in our heads and what we hear from disapproving persons.

 I write for you. For me. For all of us. To let our government and organisations to be more about action and less about talk. You can advocate for young people and still be young. Remember, we are the present and the future. We need to stop saying “young people are the future”. Obviously we are but we are here right now. How can we build their capacity to actively participate in building and maintaining a positive life for themselves and others? 

If you are passionate about volunteering to help young people, you can message ASPIRE Youth Network GUYANA’s Facebook page or email us at aspireyngy@gmail.com. 

Yours faithfully,

Juliana Lopes

ASPIRE Youth Network Guyana  

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