A call for a national youth service

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August 14, 2013

Dear Editor,

We are at a critical stage in our nation's history. Violent crime has skyrocketed with murder records being set annually. The terrible truth is that Bahamians no longer feel safe - not in their homes, not on the streets, not even in our schools. Our children are growing up in a country in which gun violence is deployed almost casually as a means to resolve disputes in part because there is no national direction.

I am of the belief that a national youth service from our citizens diversifies our defense and removes a disproportionate amount of the burden from the poor and inner city circle minorities. The result is a greater sense of national unity, community building and integration between economic classes.

A national youth service will provide a valuable place for those with fewer resources at their disposal to gain important skills and educational opportunities. Those with a national youth service training and background would become more competitive in the career pool and carry with them skills that can be applied to fields outside the service.

Too many of our young people are leaving school in their teen years either by dropping out or even being expelled, which creates societal disadvantages through literary challenges and disciplinary challenges, making them least considered for economic opportunities or employment with no resolve. This program should be geared towards students immediately graduating from high school or inclusive of those of the age of 16 for a mandatory two years with an option to extend. However, in introducing this service, we should introduce it on a volunteer basis; as with the overwhelmingly high rate of unemployment it should be expected to meet the capacity.

A national youth service will instill in our nation's youth an understanding of responsibility, discipline, accountability, maintenance of positive public profiles, remaining drug free through random drug screening, regular performance appraisals, educational tutoring, basic and advanced training in more technical aspects of the program and fellowship in working for a greater cause in unison with fellow citizens.

The plan can become self-sustaining after a period and begin the necessary safety net of those within our community who may not have the same opportunities or financial stability as others. However, through this measure we can provide the much-needed opportunities, address conflict resolution and develop patriotism and pride within our nation's youth.

This program can also provide a leveling effect on society, bringing people from all economic levels and cultures together to meet a collective common obligation - ultimately, defending our country and equipping our nation's youth with the tools to compete on world-class levels. It will also improve social relations, responsibility and collective accountability in our youth.

The service can be the one way that the state can instill patriotism, culture, a sense of belonging, responsibility and pride in protecting your fellow citizens from enemies both foreign and domestic.

This national youth service should not be a program limited to military regiments, but it should also include training in technical and vocational areas, securing our borders, protection and monitoring, immigration, maritime affairs, emergency health services, self-sustaining industries such as agriculture and fisheries, alternative energy industry exploration, engineering, architecture, economics and ecological programs.

An important feature would be some kind of regimentation into a chain of command, with the likelihood of being away from home for periods at a time and sometimes living in communal, quasi-military housing initially for training. This will be a comprehensive program that will also include stipends, insurance coverage, scholarship programs for further learning and many more benefits.

The previous government's unsuccessful fight against crime has been coupled with a serious failure to create opportunities for at-risk youth and providing positive platforms for our youth in their most impressionable state - a toxic combination with predictably terrible consequences for The Bahamas.

The collaboration must begin with the relative ministries and portfolios identifying candidates for the program - students about to leave schools (approximately 5,000 per year) and those who have graduated within the last two years as a first step. The relative ministries and portfolios should include: the Ministry of Youth, Urban Renewal, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of National Security, the Ministry of Social Services, the Attorney General's Office, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Works and Urban Development.

The integration of the training services from the relevant ministries and preparation for future opportunities for our youth should be paramount and reap tremendous benefits in keeping them positive, employed and engaged in nation building. This program seeks to intervene in the lives of at-risk youth before their behavior brings them into conflict with the law, placing them at a disadvantage.

I believe that investing in young people is a necessity, not a luxury. Young Bahamians can achieve big things if they are given the tools of education, training, social support and opportunities.

We believe this investment in our young people will yield dividends for all Bahamians in the years to come as we build a stronger, safer, more civil and prosperous nation.

There are many ways we can pay for this plan. Some say it's costly and we cannot afford it. However, I say we cannot afford not to.

- La Tore' V. Mackey

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News date : 08/14/2013    Category : Letters, Nassau Guardian Stories

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