Neville Charlton | Partnering with youth to break cycles of violence
Data shows that youth, especially males between the ages of 16 and 24, are disproportionately impacted by violent crimes, while women and girls are the main victims of sexual violence. There are a plethora of interconnected determinants of crime and violence among the youth population spanning social, economic, political, and cultural factors.
Youth Inspiring Positive Change (YIPC) has identified that violence in Jamaican schools continues to have a significant impact on the educational performance and socio-emotional health of youth and propagates a dominant negative narrative around young people. Gang violence, political conflict, police brutality, and domestic violence in the wider society are often reproduced in the school environment.
In Jamaica, our youth are partners and protectors and need better capacities and training in order to continue acting as human rights defenders, peacebuilders, activists, and community mobilisers. Young people can contribute to the civic space in unique ways, with resilience, creativity, and determination to work for peace despite various risks and threats to their life.
With that data in mind, YIPC has grown an army of over 1,500 young volunteers and peacebuilders islandwide who use their experience as a platform to work with various non-governmental organisations (NGO) and youth groups across Jamaica. YIPC has worked with youth over the last decade by providing leadership, peace and advocacy, training, mentorship as well as job opportunities.
It is important to understand the realities of our youth if we want to effectively reach them and break the cycle of violence. Our ambassadors have indicated that they are looking for a way to be employed, opportunities to network, safe spaces to meaningfully engage in development and they want to be heard and to be seen.
Life skills training for youth helps improve critical thinking, problem solving, and cooperative learning skills, along with developing respect and empathy and conflict management skills. These help young people to become responsible citizens and agents of positive change.
In Jamaica, conflict is at the centre of human life; it is inevitable and inherent in the experience of living. It is also true that each one of us has different ways of dealing with it. I have experienced this as a young peace activist in Jamaica. As agents of change, our way of dealing with conflict must always be positive. We see each problem as an opportunity to generate change.
When youth receive the necessary training, support, and mentorship to become agents of change, personal growth and development follow. This has become evident through YIPC’s peace tours, training programmes and peace ambassador networks across numerous high schools such as Meadowbrook High, Clarendon College, St Hugh’s and various communities such as Tivoli Gardens, Trench Town and Arnett Gardens.
Recognition is an important motivating factor for youth mobilisation. Awards programmes, such as YIPC’s annual Positive Awards, recognise the invaluable efforts of members and volunteers who go above and beyond to become agents of change at the community and national level.
Partnership is critical to breaking the ongoing cycle of violence and to supporting youth NGOs in their community development efforts. The award of a grant from the UNDP Multi Country Office in Jamaica to bolster the YIPC’s peace ambassador programme is an example of partnerships that can make a difference. Furthermore, YIPC’s participation in the design of a youth-centred call to action from the UNDP Ready Set Great Youth Summit on Crime and Violence is indicative of the kind of youth inclusivity that is welcomed by young people. Two of the calls to action that are most appropriate for supporting youth contributions to national safety and security interventions are:
1. More structured and consistent support from stakeholders in government, private sector and civil society to aid youth groups and organisations with human, technical and financial resources to support community projects that address crime prevention, with emphasis on citizen security and safety, thus contributing to a more peaceful Caribbean society.
2. Expansion of youth programmes that offer real opportunities for mentoring and skill development.
Achieving peaceful, just, and inclusive societies is not rocket science. We need to ensure that young people are allowed to be young, to share their voices and opinions even when they are different. Young people should be allowed to be free to enjoy their fundamental rights. Most importantly, young people should be protected, included, and involved meaningfully to ensure that our power is transformed and used appropriately to contribute to development.
What I admire most about our generation is that we always go for more. Despite the injustices, the limitations, and the issues we face, there will always be reasons to continue fighting and working for a more peaceful, just and safe Jamaica. Because in the end, we are all part of the universe, and we see ourselves reflected in every human being who lives through an injustice. That compassion and that ability to find our common humanity is what drives us as young people to move forward, to move on even in adversity. Let’s keep getting involved and let’s keep encouraging others to generate solutions to the problems we face every day in our contexts.
Neville Charlton is the founder of Youth Inspiring Positive Change JA Ltd. Send feedback to email@example.com. This article is part of a series written by youth partners of UNDP’s annual Ready Set Great Youth in Development showcase. Visit www.readysetgreatja.com for more information.