GIVING A VOICE TO OUR FUTURE | Daily News

GIVING A VOICE TO OUR FUTURE

Today, there is a sense of expectation in our country, particularly among the youth. In spite of the confrontational politics, parliamentary chaos, protest marches, and all the disillusionments, the election of the new Government has resulted in the culmination of young adults' quest for expectations.

Sri Lankan youth have clear-cut definite goals. For them, free and fair elections are not ends in themselves but only the best possible means for installing a representative government that is responsive to their collective hopes.

They believe that the present Government has an important responsibility towards them. They want the Government to clearly understand the challenges they face today and implement effective solutions for them. They do not want piecemeal programmes which are not comprehensive enough to address all the major bottlenecks that hold them back.

In other words, what they are requesting is for a National Youth Empowerment initiative. Youth empowerment is a process where young people are encouraged to gain the ability, authority, and space to make decisions and implement positive change in their own lives and the lives of other people. A variety of youth empowerment initiatives are currently underway around the world. These programmes are through non-profit organizations, government organizations or private organizations.

Today, young people are hungry for better options. They are rejecting the status quo and demanding a better future. If these youth are allowed to realize their full potential, our country could see huge economic gains by 2025.

Change initiatives

There are three reasons why it is appropriate to start an initiative for youth empowerment in Sri Lanka. First, youth in Sri Lanka are disproportionately involved in and affected by the problems that beset the country. Second, the developmental stage of youth make them integral for effective change in organizations and communities, particularly those in which they hold a stake. Third, youth can feel empowered through their relationships with adults and communities. Involving youth in decision-making processes provides them with the potential opportunities and support of voice, cause-based action and skill-building.

Through empowering processes such as learning decision-making skills, critical awareness, managing resources, and working with others, youth will become better equipped as change agents. On the other side, empowered outcomes allow individuals to gain a sense of control and participatory awareness.

Failure

Our present education system has failed to live up to the immense challenge of turning the huge young population into enlightened citizens and skilled human resource. External influences like corporate capital and media have infused the youth with western-style consumerism, an antithesis to time-honoured values of sacrifice and 'doing something for society.' While rapid urbanization has on the one hand further marginalized rural communities by diverting resources, it has simultaneously bred individualism which is increasingly, and for the first time in history, becoming a dominant feature of Sri Lankan society.

In brief, the social and political institutions in Sri Lanka have failed to create an atmosphere conducive for youth to thrive. Furthermore, the global and national realities within which today's youth are growing up and experiencing life have changed markedly, shaping them in ways very unlike that in the 1960s and 1970s.

Firm policy

Therefore, what we really need today is a dedicated National Policy which would seek to ensure that all needs and concerns of the youth are mainstreamed into the overall national development policies. The final objective is to underscore the need for the wholesome development of the youth and optimum utilization of their potential for national development.

By "mainstreaming" is meant the systematic integration of youth affairs into the work of all relevant stakeholders.

For the Government this means, allocating a proportion of all relevant ministerial budgets to youth development, introducing a youth empowerment perspective to the work of all relevant departments; setting up appropriate mechanisms for youth participation in policymaking, systematically monitoring and reporting progress made in youth development and building the body of knowledge on youth affairs.

The agencies working with youth, whether governmental or non-governmental, must incorporate this guidance into their work.

Youth forum

Engaging youth in their communities - whether they are in cities, urban slums, or rural areas-is the first step to create suitable platforms for them to step in. Creating platforms for youth will help them to engage with policy practitioners, non-governmental organizations, activists, and other stakeholders from their own communities. This will give voice to the young adults' perspectives and ideas.

Youth meetings, groups, and clubs are an excellent starting point as an informal way to bring youth together. These gatherings can flourish into more organized forms of engagement. Our youth do not always have such opportunities, and when they do, the meetings are generally designed exclusively for one gender or one particular activity- not incorporating the range of subjects that young people might want to discuss.

Creating such platforms for youth - platforms that allow for discussion and interaction on a wide range of subjects-are just a starting point, but they are nonetheless a crucial step toward helping Sri Lanka's youth build confidence, ownership, citizenship, and an understanding of both their rights and their duties.

Leadership

Some elders would say that it is not easy as it sounds to empower youth and it might even be dangerous for the community leaders to foster this sense of ownership and leadership in them. Some might even wonder how we can put our future into the hands of young people in the ages of 20s and early 30s, whose ideas span from the simple quick fixes to lofty dreams that are ridden with logistical complications.

In light of the issues we are facing, this writer can think of few ways that we can start empowering our youth to be future positive leaders.

First, we must give the youth necessary tools needed for problem-solving, brainstorming and reflecting. Providing youth with the information and resources necessary for analysing issues that affect their lives will help them to act as change agents in their communities.

Second, we must guide youth to use their passions and creativity to bring attention to issues they care about. That will allow them to find purpose within their passion and use the power of their communication skills to share important messages.

Third, we must guide them to believe that their voice matters without judging or criticizing their ideas. Empowering youth to understand that their voice makes a huge difference in the national policy making will give them motivation to continue strengthening their own hidden power for change.

Fourth, let us help them to understand that all visions and ideas take time to become realities. Let them learn that there are different stages to a project and the first stage is having an idea but there are many stages to follow thereafter.

Sense of expectation

This is the "sense of expectation" the young are talking about. It is an expectation that will help them to reach their individual goals. Our present day youth are successors to those disillusioned generations that witnessed and shared the sacrifices that liberated this nation - the ideals, the dreams and then the disenchantments and the betrayals that followed.

Today's youth expect their representatives in Parliament to selflessly bring to the forefront issues that regardless of concern them. And if expectations do not become realities, it is a matter of time that they too will be a disillusioned lot. 


 

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