June 01, 2015
There is a tried and tested script for what occurred last week Friday here in Belize City. I know, for I have lived through the script too many times not to recognise when it’s happening. Here’s how the script goes: young people are gathered under the banner of a youth forum, they are encouraged by peers and adult advisors who promise that this will be “the opportune moment” to discuss their dreams and aspirations, and that this will be the defining call for change. They are then joined by the Minister of Youth who, most times, is neither young and does not understand nor share the most basic aspirations of our youth. Yet he/she attends and, right on cue, promises that our youth are listened to because “they matter” and are “important”, and of course because “they are the future”. The curtains are then lowered, and everything goes back to normal but the participants can Share and Like each other’s photos on social networks and feel good about the experience.
As anticipated, that script played out last week at a “Youth Forum” held at the Gateway Youth Center under the auspices of the Ministry of Youth and for that reason I refused to be a part of it. I have seen and been a part of more than a fair share of these token-aimed and token-driven events. The result has been that after each meeting, I and many others were left waiting for the sweet-sounding political promises to be kept, for the adult advisors to take action on our behalf and for the future to arrive. None of the above ever occurred.
As I had personally mentioned to the perceived organisers of the forum, I supported the event in principle, because it is like initiatives that got me involved in youth advocacy and which led me to regional exposure which nurtured in me a deeper appreciation for and understanding of youth development and the importance of youth involvement in political change. But because I know that when those in power are involved in such forums, they are really more concerned that everyone follows the script and behaves nicely so they can look good and remember their lines and smile when the camera is on; it is not enough to wake up our youth. We have been lied to, and misled, and let down, and misrepresented, and taken advantage of way too many times by the Minister responsible for Youth, Herman Longsworth.
My participation and input on Friday would not only have made him feel very unwelcome, but also would have made the organisers uncomfortable with my attendance and this was not their intention. They wanted to look good. Mr. Longsworth will not escape his Judgment Day though. Belize is facing tremendous challenges, despite all the borrowed “dough” that’s rolling from Government’s treasury. Our young people are facing the brunt of it. This is why the majority are either underemployed or unemployed, struggling in a broken home, in jail, resting at the graveyard, or waiting for their plane ticket to leave town for good.
If our young people are to reverse this crisis and begin to matter to the point that they can create real change and benefit from the nation’s “wealth untold”, they will need to rise above the challenges of their own personal growth and development and open their eyes to the reality. They will need to make intelligent decisions, be selfless and care not for self-gratification, be not afraid of taking political stances (non-partisan), defy the powers that be, organise, mobilise and hit the streets when necessary.
We exist in a political and economic system in which young people are invisible, even though we are the majority. Remaining naïve and weak, selfish and self-centered, afraid to be political, fearful of taking a stand, doubtful of our power in numbers and afraid to take risks, will keep us invisible. If our young people, in particular the fortunate ones who do make it through our broken education system and earn diplomas and degrees, do not begin to care for and cease to leave behind those who don’t, the nation will sink deeper into crisis. Our student leaders at tertiary level institutions must recognise that they signed up for a huge responsibility and not just a token role. They must stop abdicating their responsibility to be stewards of national development. They need to step up!!
Those in authority, in particular those who hold political power, are too comfortable for change. They are reaping benefits and their biggest fear is that the young take over and displace them because of our creativity and untapped capacity. Therefore, they promulgate this system of oppression to their benefit. This should not continue.
Today, more than ever, we need to tell our young people the truth. They need to know why the education system openly favours a minority, why after years of “learning” we still cannot become fully employed, why there is a Southside and a Northside, why the economy overlooks our capacity and potential, why the “new” Ministry of Science and Technology is a farce, why land use and ownership are out of our reach, why our gunmen are so poor but yet can afford expensive guns and material things, why we spend millions to cement pot-holed streets but ignore broken homes, why the justice system is such a failure, and why our political system seems to only recognise us for our ability to vote.
The two Ministers directly responsible for youth have not demonstrated to be allies or supporters of young people. They have never provided any form of leadership to any of the complex issues affecting young people. In fact, they cover up the truth and at times have only exacerbated the situation. They have constantly promised but never delivered. One has consistently placed his private interest before ours. He is first and foremost a businessman, according to him. Anyone or any organisation who will allow these men to sit next to our young people and pretend that they are the best thing to have happened for us, is doing us a great disservice.
We must rescue our young people urgently, and it appears that only we can do so. Young people, we must rise up.
(Signed) Alberto Vellos
President, Belize Youth Movement
Co-Founder, Nation Builders
Member of the CARICOM Commission on Youth Development Research Team (2010)
Former Commonwealth Youth Representative (2005-2008)
Former Belize National Youth Council member (2001)
(Ed. Note: Alberto Vellos is the editor of The Belize Times)