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The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 16, No. 3            January 19, 2006

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Youths in attendance were able to create a Youth Policy that reflected their opinions and needs as relating to the youth of Belize today.

On Saturday, January 14th, The Youth for the Future (YFF) organization hosted a consultation at the Holy Redeemer Parish Hall in an effort to make the voices of our Belizean youths heard. This was the third consultation for Youth for the Future (YFF) as they had previously held two; one in Dangriga and one in Cayo. The consultation was an all day event that involved several youths and community leaders who came together with the aim of ensuring that the National Youth policies reflect the interests and opinions of adolescents and youths in Belize.

   Coordinator of the YFF , Joseph Card, kicked off the consultation session with the National Anthem and a prayer invocated by Father Wright. Travis Simpson, Youth Empowerment Coordinator, then took the stage for a warm welcome address, followed by an overview of the National Youth Policy process by Dr. Isabel Tun, consultant of the NYP. In her address, the rationale was made clear, “[…] out of Belize’s 270,000 persons, adolescents and youths between the ages 15-29 years old are 28 percent of the total population. This number is significant enough that consistent efforts have to be coordinated to ensure that these adolescents and youths are participating meaningfully in our nation’s social and economic systems and are influencing directly, the decisions and the processes that affect their interests and their lives.” She further commented, “A workable plan is needed, and recommended to create a document draft that represents what the youth would like to see happen.”

   Following the speech, Joseph Card took the podium for his remarks. A very enthusiastic Card commented that the voices of the youths are not being heard and that it is unacceptable since they are so many and nothing is being done. “For all these groups of youths, the rationale remains the same; young people have to participate in the decision-making process of the country and when available, collaboration has to occur among agencies to ensure that they are well prepared through training, job placement and entrepreneurship to take advantage of opportunities to benefit and contribute to the social and economic development of their country,” stated Card.

   Mrs. Rana Flowers, UNICEF Country Representative for Belize was also present and had a plethora of great views and encouraged the youths to come together as one working force so they can be heard. Flowers stated, “When the youth are being silenced the country does not grow, your challenge is to know your rights and fight for them; you need to remain true to your standards and go for it.”

   The consultation continued with a very special appearance from the Guest Speaker, Minister of Defense, Youth, Sports and Housing, Cordel Hyde. A determined Hyde stated “We need to formulate a policy that would work, one that will not just sit on the shelf, but a workable one that requires follow-ups and is not left behind. The youths need to have a say, let’s join the army of those who will stop at nothing to get what they want. […] For long adults have made plans for the youth and we have failed miserably. It is time that the youth take an active role in what they want this country to become.” Also present at the consultation was the Youth Representative of the Social Investment Fund, Carmichael Polonio who gave a pleasant vote of thanks to those gathered.

   After a brief intermission, the day went from theory to practical as the gathered were given a task to answer questions based on the Youth Policy and present them. The presentations then led to discussions among the gathered and proved successful as everyone was involved in the formulation process. The project is geared at formulating a National Youth Policy that is relevant to the times, informed by the expressed opinions, desires and concerns of youth, useful to those involved in youth work and geared towards tangible outcomes. Apart from launching the policy, implementation of the policy was emphasized greatly by all speakers. The conclusion was made to develop District Youth Councils in urban and rural areas countrywide to provide direct representation for youth in these vicinities in this governance mechanism. Utilizing the national youth parliament process as a communication channel to advance the recognition of the National Youth Council as the highest governance body for youth in Belize, through strategies that would encourage youth representation on major decision-making bodies including statutory and other boards, school boards and the senate, could provide answers and solutions to the problems at hand. This would only develop with the participation and approval of the Cabinet for the final product.

   At the end of the consultation process, Joseph Card was very thankful for the participation of all parties and hoped that indeed the youths’ voices are heard.
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