Friday, February 24, 2012

Growing Up Jamaica(n) Pt 2

The Gleaner newspaper’s editorial of August 16, 2011 lamented the poor engagement of the nation’s youth by the Jamaican government. Stating that nearly 60 per cent (almost 400,000) of our young people between the ages of 15 and 29 are either unemployed or out of the workforce altogether, the paper wondered if the nation was not setting itself up for revolts similar to the 2011 riots in Britain, mainly attributed to disempowered, disenfranchised and frustrated youth.

It’s a cry we hear everyday: where are the jobs? Where are the social intervention programmes? Where are the initiatives to ensure that this next generation is equipped and ready to make positive contributions to society? The popular sentiment is that these young people go through the system and remain largely unengaged, unemployed and depressed (in that order).

One young lady, Tameika, shared her frustration in a letter to the editor recently: “I have done everything that society has asked of me, and now society is failing me. … I have a student loan which I can't repay because I'm not working. The Students' Loan Bureau (SLB) doesn't understand, and wants its money.

“Are you now telling me that there is no hope for professionals? Did I waste my time going to college? Will I ever get a permanent teaching job in Jamaica? Am I ever going to finish paying off the SLB? Am I living in a failed country?”

She is not alone. Many young people in this country are asking if, after 50 years of Independence, they live in a failed and hopeless state. The statistics speak for themselves:
Economist Dennis Morrison lamented that youth (14-24 years) unemployment figures stood at 25.9% in 2008; senior sociology lecturer Orville Taylor noted that it has since risen to 31% in 2011. The World Bank reports gross tertiary-level school enrolment at a measly 25% (2009 figures). Of this percentage, 84.7% of those who leave tertiary-level educational institutions migrate to other countries to live and work (2000 figures).

It begs the question: are we, indeed, living in a failed country? Have we lost sight of the vision that carried our forefathers from slavery to Independence? And what can be done to infuse our youth with a greater sense of hope and promise, so that they, like our foreparents, will hold on through the rough times and find creative and innovative ways to not only outlast but also thrive in, and gain strength and resolve from, these challenging times?

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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