St. John’s Antigua- New developments by the Department of Youth Affairs hope to inspire greater interest and involvement among adolescence, communities and adults.
Speaking to OBSERVER MEDIA, Director of Youth Affairs Cleon Athill said, “young people must begin to understand that they have a responsibility to make Antigua better and to transform the…political, cultural, technological, and educational landscape of Antigua & Barbuda.”
Athill and her colleagues at the Department of Youth Affairs have developed several programs designed to cultivate the communication, leadership, and interpersonal behavioural skills of the nation’s youth.
Such programs include the National Teen Forum, Youth Media Training, and Youth for Positive Living, and its most recent undertaking the Community Youth Development Initiative that seeks to engage young people in community work.
“When young people are involved they do better, thrive better [and] make better choices…they can say no to a lot of social pressures” Athill said.
The Youth Department is also concerned about addressing the issues that are plaguing Antigua & Barbuda’s youth and is proactive towards giving them the voice they need to be heard and recognized.
“Young people are concerned about education and the state of our education, health services available to young people, particularly reproductive health … young people are concerned about juvenile justice …sexual abuse at home [and] at school … our young people are interested in issues and can articulate, they just need the support,” Athill said.
Youth development, though important, is not an area that receives the attention it needs. Athill said, “we bring attention to the issues from time to time, the problem is that in the whole scope of government … youth is not very high on the agenda of anybody and that is sad.”
This is not an issue limited to Antigua & Barbuda. Athill said that within the Caribbean, youth development has scarcely been an important topic of conversation among significant public officials.
One way in which the Department of Youth is seeking to lift the importance of youth advancement is to improve the level of professionalism among youth workers.
“In the region, there is a move to what we call professionalized youth work. The Commonwealth Programme, Caricom too, have identified the professionalization of youth work as key to the regional youth development agenda,” Athill said. This comes from the belief held by many individuals that youth work is something anyone can do without any particular skill or training in the area.
Recently, Antigua & Barbuda was among the team of professionals from across the region to approve a set of competency standards to be used the criteria for evaluating youth workers.
These standards have been used to construct a course developed by the Commonwealth and the University of the West Indies. The University of the West Indies, for the first time, will be offering a degree programme in youth development work.
A major area Athill hopes to improve professionalism with regards to youth development is sports. Athill said, “one of the things that we need to begin to get our sporting personnel to appreciate is that sports is a powerful youth development tool.”
Athill explained she is calling for a more systematic approach to teaching teamwork among our youths without the hostile environment.