TALK UP YOUT
Youth Empowerment Through Dialogue
Town Hall #3: June 17, 2017
Number of Youth Attendees: 44
Funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund
Officials in Attendance:
Dwayne Vaz: Member of Parliament for Central Westmoreland
In continuing its “Youth Empowerment through Dialogue” Project, Talk Up Yout held its third Town Hall on June 17, 2017 at the Source in Savanna la mar, Westmoreland. The project aims to build the capacity of youth across the island as well as give them an opportunity to engage elected officials in constructive dialogue which will be beneficial to their parish. The attendees of the Town Hall represented several schools and youth organizations across the parish of Westmoreland. Some of the attendees were participants in the training workshop which was held on the previous day.
Westmoreland’s Town Hall started with the host, Giovanni Dennis introducing himself and the “Youth Empowerment through Dialogue” Project to the attendees. He explained to the audience that the town halls were part of a series and that the Talk Up Yout team had already been to St. James and St. Elizabeth. He went on to further to state that the series sought to give youth a platform to voice their issues, teach them about advocacy and help them to find workable solutions; and that the project was funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund. He urged everyone to relax and feel comfortable talking and to use the #YoutFiChat hashtag on social media when posting about the day’s events.
Dwayne Vaz, the Member of Parliament for Central Westmoreland, was the only elected representative present. Apologies were offered on behalf of the other two Members of Parliament Wykeham McNeil and Luther Buchanan who were unable to attend. Nonetheless, the town hall was very interactive and M.P Vaz sought to answer all questions in a straightforward manner. Mr. Vaz said that he would try his best to represent all the MPs but the host impressed upon him not to make any excuses for those who were absent and stated that as Mr. Vaz was one of the younger MPs it is admirable that he saw the need to show up.
The conversation started with a discussion on crime, as 41% of youth from Westmoreland who participated in the TUY Baseline Survey, deemed it the biggest issue affecting parish.Mr. Vaz expressed that crime in the parish was indeed out of hand and required a united effort. He blamed the increasing crime rate on the general breakdown of values in the society and said that there was a need for a national effort and the reintegration of a value system in the home, school and society at large. Mr Vaz said crime couldn’t be solved overnight even though immediate measures can be taken, such as providing the police and military with more resources. He added that Members of Parliament could lobby the government for a reallocation of resources, but otherwise lacked the ability to correct it themselves. He said crime has become the norm in Jamaica, and as it affects more persons, they are recognizing the seriousness of the issue.
A young woman explained that she had started a youth club to help young people in her community as they have the “wrong concept”. She said many have abandoned education for relationships and criminal acts, particularly scamming. She stated that scamming is attractive to many young people as they lack positive and successful influences within the community. They look to those who are involved in scamming as role models as these individuals typically have nice vehicles, homes, and other signs of wealth.
Mr. Vaz commented that the high dropout rate and growing popularity of scamming was a major issue which resembled the drug trade in 1980’s Jamaica. He stated that the “get rich” mentality was responsible for this recent gravitation, along with the lack of role models. He shared that youth clubs were important and could share examples of persons who have achieved success honestly, even if these persons are outside of the community. Mr. Vaz urged young people to share the negative effects of these illegal activities with their peers so as to deter others.
Another young person interjected saying the “government served no purpose” and that the youth must not be blamed as the parish’s and country’s leaders have not actively sought to make progress in Westmoreland. He addressed the issue of sexual grooming being done by policemen, religious leaders, and politicians. Although he received a hearty response from the crowd there was still a difference of opinion on this matter. Some members of the audience argued that sexual grooming could not take place unless the children agreed or had not been trained well by parents. Others were sympathetic and suggested that lack of resources was often the reason why young persons were coerced.
Youth unemployment and the resulting migration of youth to other parishes was another issue discussed. Many young persons agreed that the parish was not very attractive as it lacked not only employment opportunities but even recreational spaces. Mr. Vaz was able to empathize with the audience; he shared that after graduation from University, he was also unemployed for eight months. He explained that, the predominant industry for the parish was tourism and that hospitality training was of importance.
Westmoreland’s Ambassador for the National Youth Service expressed that although unemployment was an issue, many young persons were uninterested in employment. He shared that he had brought forms to many young persons’ homes for the National Youth Service’s Summer Employment Programme and offered to photocopy their forms at the office for submission. Yet many chose not to complete the form while others could not even find or did not have acceptable forms of identification. He stated that many of the parish’s youth were simply unemployable as they lacked skills. He would also like to see a more central HEART training centre available to the youth. He spoke passionately stating that opportunities existed but many young people were simply seeking handouts.
Lack of Recreational Space
Regarding the lack of recreational space, Mr. Vaz stated that there were currently two spaces which were being considered for investment- the Independence Park and the Cultural Centre. The Cultural Centre, which is underdeveloped, had been unused since the Noise Abatement Act took effect. He mentioned that there was specific interest in the Cultural Centre as it was a large space with abundant potential.
Mr. Vaz shared that he was personally trying to address the issues of community centres which he wished to transform into educational centres and had already rehabilitated the centre in Hatfield where solar panels had been installed, thanks to donations from a Canada based foundation. He explained that HEART training would take place there and that costs would be subsidized as the electricity cost would now be substantially reduced due to the use of solar energy. He then addressed the closure of the Youth Information Centre, which he said was closed for security reasons. Mr. Vaz elaborated that he had been in communication with Floyd Green, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and Member of Parliament for South West St. Elizabeth and had been assured that the Centre would soon be reopened and available to the community’s members.
The issues of de-bushing and lack of streetlights was also raised. Mr. Vaz explained that recently he had written to the Minister of Local Government outlining the areas which needed streetlights and the correspondence left him with an understanding that the parish had to wait until more resources were available. Additionally, there was an ongoing issue between the government and the Jamaica Public Service regarding payments which could also be affecting street lights in the parish. Regarding de-bushing, he admitted that it was a constant issue and that recently the National Works Agency had given each constituency one million dollars for drain cleaning and de-bushing on the main roads. He explained that the interior roads were the responsibility of the Parish Council and that the Councilors should be contacted for the de-bushing of those areas.
Various advocates who had been trained in the workshop held the previous day expressed that it was important to take initiative and that opportunities were there. They shared their experiences with organizing community projects, tutoring programmes and entrepreneurship to encourage the other youth present and to show Mr. Vaz that they were neither inactive nor helpless. Youth Parliamentarian for the parish, Davian Hemmings also shared that having a strong value system was crucial; he reminisced on his years at Mannings High School and expressed that he went through many hardships and was often uncertain if he could continue school, but always kept on the straight and narrow path. He encouraged young persons to start with what was available to them and to persevere.
Communication with the MP
Mr. Vaz shared with the audience that he had a radio program called Your MP Live every second Sunday on Vibes FM which he had implemented so persons could call and have dialogue and gain awareness. The Talk Up Yout host, Giovanni Dennis suggested that Mr. Vaz invite the other Members of Parliament for the parish to his program and he admitted that Member of Parliament Wykeham McNeil had already expressed interest.
The host closed the Town Hall by thanking the MP and the audience for their participation and the TUY team for facilitating this project.
Hanover and Trelawny are the next stops in the series of Town Halls under this Initiative.
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