"Blowing My Abeng: Energizing Jamaica's Youth... Volume I"

“Most of us are trying to find ourselves. We have no jobs. We

are lost. We have no skills to deal with certain things and no

forums to express ourselves. We are in a box…

A jus suh di ting set”. A quote from the 2012 Youth Situation Analysis in Jamaica.

While our nation is gracefully positioning itself to fully unlock its creative potential on the international and regional landscapes, our leaders boast with overwhelming pride about the increase in economic growth statistics on various political platforms across the island. Despite the fervent politicking, Jamaica’s young people remain highly frustrated, disillusioned and apathetic towards the systemic weaknesses of marginalization and socio-economic inequalities. In addition, many young people are like the coronel in Gabriel Marquez’s novel, ‘No One Writes to the Coronel’ who are scraping for survival in a country that claims it is assiduously working towards equal opportunities in order for every young Jamaican to maximize their fullest potential.

Youth unemployment is the ghost that haunts the Jamaican society in which it cripples and deforms the dreams, aspirations and vibrant energies of young people to create multi-dimensional progress. While we greatly commend our youth for their resilience to triumph over struggles and obstacles, this does not negate the fact that Jamaica young people are languished on the corners of our society with shattered hopes and dreams of gaining meaningful employment to be more productive citizens in the processes of nation building and social transformation. These fictious words of applause do not negate the fact that the youth unemployment rate stands at a whopping twenty-nine point two per cent (29.2%) according to the 2016 Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) report and these deceptive words certainly do not negate the fact that in a 2016 Respect Jamaica and UNICEF survey, ninety-three per cent (93%) of young people in Jamaica responded that employment was their first and top priority issue followed by education. In addition, it is certainly no surprise either that the 2012 Youth Situation Analysis of Jamaica showed that youth unemployment is powerfully embodied by the deadly ghosts of  high poverty rates, weak rural development, low educational attainment and training. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that policy makers and other key stakeholders actively engage and consult with the directly affected groups of young people before attempting to assume the most workable and practical solutions to youth unemployment.

The education system in Jamaica has to the power to achieve much more than co-ercing youth to pass standardized examinations by regurgitating key theoretical principles without critical analysis and interpretation of their experiences of the real world. Education should be used as the primary agent of social transformation in which theme based learning and critical thinking is strongly promoted. The 2013 Transition from School to Work Survey has already illustrated that only thirty-five (35%) of young Jamaicans have fully transitioned into the world of work and this can be interpreted as the education system failing to bridge the gap between equipping students with the necessary knowledge and skills required for a competitive and dynamic labour market.

The National Youth Parliament Group on Youth Unemployment have decided that there should be the introduction of HEART model of evaluation of skills development in secondary and tertiary institutions in which young people will gain greater access to training development, relevant knowledge and skills upon entry into the labour market. To further, rural youth who have been marginalized and have far less opportunities to be socially and economically empowered, we recommend that the construction of special youth spaces will be used to provide an increase in capacity building, small business training and access to start- up capital through partnerships between Youth Empowerment Officers and community/international non-governmental organizations. The Ministry of Local Government as well also needs to fully harness the potential of directing and co-ordinating infrastructural development and expansion of wealth creation in rural communities in which marginalized young people have an equal opportunity to be self-confident in their abilities while adding to the productivity of the Jamaican society. Our group has seen the immaculate results of using community strategies to alleviate unemployment in Brazil, where Chevron Corporation (an international NGO) has partnered with rural young women to tap into diversified entrepreneurial areas such technology and agro-ecology. This has not only helped to alleviate household and community poverty but also it helped to reduce the country’s overall unemployment rate by thirty per cent (30%). Using this recommended model, we can truly bridge the huge division between “urban and rural” labels while encouraging every young Jamaican to transfer potential energy into energy of movement and action.

While there is a lot of chatter on the corner about issues affecting young people such as unemployment, many of our young people channel their deepest concerns about the heartrending present and future into the damning state of silence. Silence is a metaphor of struggle, agony and the feeling of finally giving up after awaiting months and even years for one phone call to be admitted to door of employment. Silence is the metaphor of continued disappointment after several attempts to gain social mobility and break the barriers of discrimination based on geographic location, social class and gender.

Silence is the metaphor of voluntary submission to indecent means of employment in which many of our young people are in short-term, menial jobs being paid little for long hours under inhumane working conditions. While the young people of Jamaica undergo the ills of savage capitalism, the International Labour Organization (2016) has been bellowing for creative policy frameworks and youth friendly programs in which access to decent employment for young people remains at the core focus of development in which there are improved working conditions, income and access to career advancement options. Silence has become the metaphor of giving to a powerful status quo that has remained in- tact since the colonial enterprise. However, this silence shall soon be broken. Like Nanny of the Maroons, who blew her abeng in any effort to mobilize the slaves to popularly resist servitude and silent submission to colonial deception and exploitation, I will be blowing my abeng in Jamaica while seeking to unify and energize whose lively spirits of optimism and enthusiasm have died. However,  ONE person cannot bring about the social changes that youth are in dire need. It takes a unified, team effort to awaken the social, cultural and political consciousness of young people, thus charting the way forward for a new era in youth development