This week the Department of Youth Services under the Government of Belize in collaboration with the Commonwealth hosted an event to launch Belize’s march toward mainstreaming youth development in national planning. In attendance were most major stakeholders who work for and with youth, including the Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber; directors of youth from across the Caribbean, and university students, among others. I was asked to deliver the youth address that set out a youth perspective on youth issues in Belize. The following is what was delivered:
“Today, I have been charged with the incredibly nerve-racking but exciting duty of laying out the foundation of perspectives on youth development through my 22-year-old eyes that sometimes behave as if they are three scores and 10 years old. Despite all that, it is a duty I do not take lightly. My beautiful Belize is just about 38 years old; we have not been politically independent and in charge of our own development for very long as compared to many of our Caribbean cousins, and that age gap becomes gaping if we look at our Central American neighbors. Her population is just as young, with the age bracket of 15-29 making up almost 30% of her population. That’s 113,200 people, according to the Statistical Institute of Belize’s 2018 estimates. The question then becomes simple: why is it that youth development is not already streamlined within all national development plans, and even more importantly, how do we make a coordinated step toward making this a reality?
“Youth Mainstreaming, as defined by the Commonwealth, is strategies for intergenerational equity and justice that enable young people’s capabilities, participation and human rights to be an integral dimension of the analysis, design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in the intersectoral planning across all social, political and economic spheres. It enables young people and adults to benefit equally from and contribute equally to development outcomes. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? This definition, though comprehensive in its theoretical nature, can only work if we put it to work.
“To the stakeholders here today, young people are not looking for the organization with the highest degree of the ‘Jesus complex’ to save us from ourselves. We are not inherently a danger to ourselves and to the communities within which we are born. What we need is guidance and support to reach our highest degree of self-actualization while also understanding that you are not doing us, young people a favor — you are doing us, Belize, a favor. I think Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, said it best when he said, “No one is born a good citizen and no nation is born a good democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime…a society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death.” Some often use the quote that we must bend the tree while it is young in reference to giving our children and youth a proper discipline, but the same applies for young nations like our own; national development cannot in sober thought be achieved without an integrated and respected youth development plan. The time to do this is not when we are a mature nation; the time for the nation to wholly recognize the value of its youth is now.
“To my fellow young people in the room, extending into the post-independence babies, we are the privileged few carrying the concerns and convictions of that 113,200 young people in our minds and to the tables of these forums. We are all the LGBTQIA+ youth that face discrimination, the rural youth that struggle with access to services, the urban youth faced with gun violence at every street corner, the youth with diverse abilities trying to manoeuvre this world, the immigrant youth finding refuge within our 8867 square miles. You are not here to only enjoy the luxury of the Biltmore but to speak out and to speak up for those who cannot be here. We owe that to each other. We have a responsibility to put our weight in these spaces, to open the door and to keep the door open for other young people by meaningfully occupying these spaces, physically and mentally, and with the utmost integrity. We are the most educated and innovative generation and have the power to influence massive progressive change. All we have to do is use it, even if you possess a dissenting view. Use it to organize and to address the wicked, root problems rather than consequences of those problems in small and monumental ways while combating the deficit perspective of youth that confirmation biases have us carrying about ourselves. We are more than a profit to be made by funeral homes and loan sharks. We are more than casket pretty.
“For all of us, collaboration over competition always and in all ways. Resources are finite and we have to do our best to maximize impact with the little we have. Although an increase in budgetary allocation for the youth ministry can help. Youth mainstreaming will not move beyond these three days if we have the “crab inna bucket” mentality. If we do not plan, if we do not build upon our existing frameworks such as Horizon 2030, The Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy, The Children’s Agenda, The National Youth Policy, demand more from party political manifestos and for accountability on regional and international agreements, if we do not have from the conception of these plans a monitoring and evaluation framework in place and finance to do it then that same bucket we spoke about earlier is covered and thrown to the depths where we all face the same gloomy fate. A mentor of mine said to me that what is missing from our young country is the channeled creativity of its youth and I firmly believe that nurturing, bolstering, and guiding our creativity and energy is the only way we can ensure that we truly flourish under the shade of that Mahogany tree we love so much. This is how we transform young lives, this is how we transform the face of our beloved Belize, region, and world.”
“This full process is slated to last about 3 years and Belize, from my observation, is in a slight identity crisis. We’re in a total voter registration process, moving into a referendum on whether or not we go to the ICJ, the shift of major party political leadership and general elections. We’ll be in a totally different political space in a very short time and we’ll see whether this very vital policy step will survive the turbulence of these rapidly changing times.