The annual focus on Youth during the month of June and, more specifically, 16 June, gives rise to questions around the issues facing youth, and the role and participation of youth in society.
The obvious issues facing young people in our South African society are the issues of education, unemployment and poverty. These are immediate responses received to questions asked of young people regarding their biggest challenges. Access to education increases the possibilities of employment and a reduction of poverty – although there is no guarantee that this will be the case. There are large numbers of young people who have not had the opportunities to access education, nor have they had the opportunity to develop skills in the trades, and therefore face a bleaker future in terms of employment opportunities. One wonders how differently the various SETA’s could function in this space if they were freed from being tied to the formal employment sector, where a young person needs to be in formal employment to benefit from the SETA funding – but needs the SETA funding in order to stand a chance for formal employment.
There is another universal issue facing young people which may, if addressed, assist in unlocking possibilities in the issues raised above. This is the sense that prevails among young people that no-one is listening to them, or taking their views seriously, or acknowledging that they may, in fact, have a contribution to make to finding solutions to the ills of society. This results in frustration and ultimately in some kind of outburst, sometimes violent. Where is the space provided for the voice of the youth to be heard, for their contribution to be acknowledged, for them to be taken seriously?
If the space were provided, and the young people taken seriously and their views taken into consideration, this may go a long way to reducing the levels of frustration and increasing the sense of belonging, and therefore the willingness to participate in societal issues. One way of providing the space, and increasing the opportunities for youth participation, is a YMCA programme called Local Action Groups, or LAGs. The concept is simple: six young people are gathered from a particular local community, and tasked with conducting a community survey to determine the most pressing social need in their community, and then with developing a programme of action to ensure that that need is met. The programme of action must be in place within 6 months of the commencement of the survey. This programme has provided some helpful solutions to a variety of communities across Greater Durban, including speed-humps; a clean-up campaign and a bridge across a stream; a library in a container; food gardens using permaculture; and street lighting. These young people feel that they belong in their communities as their efforts are acknowledged by the communities because they have made a tangible difference. They are validated, they have been heard, and the community at large has benefited, not just them, and not just for today.
This approach brings young people into the decision-making processes in their communities, it brings acclaim to them for their efforts, it provides a sense of well-being to them, and, most importantly, turns them from subjects into citizens.
This is one way to ensure that young people are heard, their views taken seriously, and that they can make a meaningful contribution to finding solutions to the ills of society.
Ian Booth
General Secretary/CEO Greater Durban YMCA
*The KwaMashu branch of the YMCA will be holding a Youth Day event in the KwaMashu YMCA Hall on Saturday 16 June from 10am until 4pm showcasing some of the cultural activity available in the area, many by learners attending dance / drama / music classes at the Y-Arts club. Entry is a donation, minimum R5.