Glenton de Kock:Embracing youth as active citizens

GlentondeKockUNITED Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon recently remarked that “the world’s young people are a major human resource for development”.

He added: “Young men and women everywhere are valuable and committed partners in the global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including the overarching goal of cutting poverty and hunger in half.

“Young people remain at the forefront of the fight against HIV/Aids – and they bring fresh thinking to longstanding development concerns.”

Therefore, the power the youth of our country wielded during the campaign should not be brushed off lightly.

However, youth power can be a double-edged sword if it is not managed efficiently.

As the working population grows in leaps and bounds, it is imperative that this new generation of workforce is equipped with skills and knowledge if the nation is to harness its human capital potential.

More importantly, skills- and knowledge-accretion needs to be in sync with the aspirations and ambitions of the youth.

Failure to do so could result in a host of societal problems, and the ensuing rise in unemployment and poverty could drag down our metro’s economic prospects in the nottoo-distant future.

The focus should, therefore, be not only on numbers but on quality of this human resource.

The question is, how do you give young people the tools to be part of the solution?

Many young people in our city may feel disenfranchised and ignored, particularly if we do not have dedicated youth support programmes.

As a city we should consult on how young people would like to see their city develop. A first step may be to help them understand how their neighbourhoods have evolved.

By understanding the history of their community, we can encourage young citizens who want to be part of the change we all wish to see.

Some young people in our city may assume that their neighbourhoods have always been that way.

Some may have never experienced any development, either of human or infrastructural nature.

Our young citizens may not believe in change or that it will happen in their lifetime.

Professor Anne Whiston Spirn of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) taught a programme in which students worked with an urban middle school on the redesign of the surrounding area.

As part of the programme in Mill Creek, one of Philadelphia’s poorest districts, the children studied original documents and photographs of the area, some dating back to the 17th century.

The results were startling. At the beginning of the course, only one of the 36 schoolchildren said they wanted to go to university and, when questioned by the MIT students about the potential for their neighbourhood to change, they were extremely pessimistic.

“By the end of the semester, all but one of the children said they wanted to go to university and they had completely transformed their belief that change could happen,” Spirn said.

“They were living in an eternal present, so they had no belief in change.”

There are many such neighbourhoods like Mill Creek right here in Nelson Mandela Bay that need the youth to start believing in a changed future.

So instead of seeing youth as a problem to fix, the challenge is to find ways of harnessing their energies so that they can play a role in improving urban life for themselves and others.

Glenton de Kock is the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber’s project manager

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