For more than a decade, I have consistently taken the position that so called stakeholder consultations, pretty ministerial speeches and public relations announcements will contribute little to improving the lives of our disadvantaged young people—many of whom are easily lured into violent crime as a way of life.
One reason why these broad brush approaches are unproductive is that they are conducted on the basis of a rigid status quo, such as the almost universally condemned, unreformed education system. It is a system which is disproportionately based on passing exams and routinely breeds anti-social behaviour.
I and many others have long advocated for an education system that equips children—within their varying individual capabilities—to face the adult world, with developing life skills and genuine hope that they have a reasonable chance of finding some productive occupation.
For example, on 5 January 2019, the group Resett1962 set out 11 goals in the Trinidad Express for ‘a properly designed and operative education system in Trinidad and Tobago’. These goals were not referable to passing exams; they included items such as ‘help to build resilience to the enticements of negative and ant-social sub-cultures’.
President Paula Mae Weekes struck a similar note—for which she received some knee jerk criticism—when she said that a significant number of tertiary level students had a sense of entitlement to big rewards for minimum effort. She added pungently that ‘it was clear that these failings of character had been carried over from their earlier interaction with the education system’.
I add and repeat that these failings are first and foremost the result of the majority of leaders in this society and now so-called influencers, leading us to believe that the measure of personal success is exclusively the acquisition or display of material wealth. That’s why Carnival band leaders can sell so many ‘frontline’ costumes.
One feature of such visionless leadership is insufficient attention to the horrible underlying social conditions into which many children are born. Governments merely hook disadvantaged communities into dependency on them and into forced partisan political preference.
While these conditions go without sustainable amelioration, the continuously growing underclass look on at the frontlines of wealth and corruption with resentment and alienation.
In the absence of a coherent social development policy, what has invariably interested me are programmes which encourage the participation of our neglected young people in activities likely to expand their horizons, improve their sense of self worth and foster an ability to make their own way in the world—as free as possible from the crippling effects of the status quo, including the dependency syndrome. Such dependency does not enable empowerment.
I learned recently of a little dedicated group who, for the past two years, have run a mentorship programme for 12 girls from the St Jude’s Home. The spearhead of the group is the NiNa Foundation. The programme comprises a seven-day residential mentorship camp followed by a monthly mentorship programme, which involves motivational activities intended to empower the girls to create and manage their own business activities.
These activities go in the desirable direction of resetting a path of resilience and self starting. It is to their theme—enabling empowerment without dependency—that I address this column.
The survival of these girls and many youngsters of both genders depends on building their capacity to transition out from institutional care when they reach the age limit. There is urgent need for the use of a property to be used as a transition house for those who have no shelter while they begin to stand on their own.
I was fortunate to receive an invitation to attend a fundraiser on Sunday last at which the ‘graduating’ girls were present. The organisers are typical of the many persons trying to keep this place from falling apart completely and should be wholeheartedly supported on merit—not contact—and without the attachment of political strings.
Many youngsters are in a crisis to find shelter from harm. We cannot rely on government ministries, which ‘allocate’ resources but do not provide them for holistic social development on a timely or structured basis.