Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment, Dwight Sutherland. (GP)

“Guard your light and protect it. Move it forward into the world and be fully confident that if we connect light to light to light, and join the lights together of the one billion young people in our world today, we will be enough to set our whole planet aglow.”

Hafsat Abiola, a Nigerian Human Rights Activist has eloquently presented a simple yet complex map to harness the energies, creativity and fearless nature of youth, to bridge and strengthen the pathways for our nations’ future. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are approximately 106 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years, some 20% of the region’s population. In Barbados, there are approximately 25% of persons under 30 years.

This year’s theme for Caribbean Youth Day: “Vision 2020: Caribbean Youth Crafting one Vision” reinforces my belief, that there can be no development or growth, without the active involvement of young people at community, organizational and national levels.

Crafting one vision is therefore critical if we are to stand strong as a unified force and face the challenges which beset small developing nations. Igniting, fueling and connecting the lights of our young people, will present us with unmeasurable and unimaginable pathways that only young, unshackled minds can see and build.

As I bring you greetings on this day, September 30th, Caribbean Youth Day, I challenge you to join with my Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment and the Government of Barbados, to create the conditions and environment for young people in Barbados and the Caribbean, to ignite, fuel and connect their lights.  

Since being established on the Caribbean calendar in 1985 to celebrate the work, contributions, roles and achievements of our young people, Barbados has annually celebrated Caribbean Youth Day in various ways including: youth parades, participation in regional activities, celebration events, lectures and since 2015 as a focal point in our National Youth Week.

This year, the Ministry has chosen to host a National Youth Stakeholder’s Consultation bringing representatives from youth focused and centered governmental, non-governmental agencies, youth organisations, individuals and community influencers to share and identify how as a collective force we can better serve, empower and create the network and pathways, to enable each and every young person, to have the opportunity to fuel and ignite their light and realize their dreams.  

As participants and guardians in youth development, it is recognized that no man is an island and understanding where each one of us stand, will allow an effective and achievable plan to be crafted and executed.

Take note Barbados, that today’s National Youth Stakeholder’s Consultation is just one of several interventions that my Ministry is undertaking to empower youth and support stakeholders.

Indeed, a National Youth Policy Coordinating Committee and independent consultants, are working on the new edition of Barbados’ National Youth Policy, which will become our guide for the next five years.

The Ministry remains nimble, and throughout this uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to be available and flexible, responding within the approved protocols, as seen in the successful completion of the recent National Summer Camp Programme and collaboration through our National Sports Council with the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Ministry of Environment Swimming Initiative.

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We will continue to safely deliver programmes within communities and online, ensuring that we remain connected and committed to positive youth development.

My Ministry continues to tackle the challenge of youth unemployment, a matter of a major concern, by recognizing the need for multiple interventions and partnerships. 

To this end, the Division of Youth Affairs has augmented its own employability and mentorship programme to reach more young unemployed youth, through ‘Get Into and ‘Get Hired’ programmes, in association with the Prince’s Trust International Charity.

These programmes seek to create a pathway between unemployed young persons and potential employers. During this week, the Royal Barbados Police Force partnered with the Ministry for a Get Hired – Uniformed Service, which facilitated an opportunity for young men and women and the Royal Barbados Police Force to engage in an information sharing and pre-interview process for recruitment.

Additionally, the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES) is a primary intervention within the Ministry for alleviating youth unemployment.  The YES guides, supports and empowers youth to move their ideas into successful and sustainable enterprises.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Renewable Energy sector presents an excellent opportunity for skills up-gradation of young men and women.

The Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment will partner with the Ministry of Energy, Small Business and Entrepreneurship to create jobs for young people in the area of solar photovoltaic investment throughout the country on all pavilions and community centres. This is a major source of employment for our young men and women.

Youth entrepreneurship is critical, because according to the recently published UNICEF/Ministry of Youth Generation Unlimited (Gen U) report, 30% of those unemployed in Barbados are young people.  

The Ministry is therefore attempting to further tackle this debilitating phenomenon by launching very shortly, Phase 2 of our Building Blocks community business centers even as we prepare for the official opening of our four pilot centers which will provide a home for the businesses of sixteen young men and women in Christ Church and St. Michael.

The Ministry also recognizes the importance of personal development, skills development and the building of competencies at the individual level to support the crafting of the future for our nation and Caribbean.

Therefore, we continue to expand our partnerships with vocational, tertiary and private entities, to support the expressed needs and national goals, to equip our young people for the road ahead. Everyone will not have the same interest, drive and ability and so service delivery must always be creative and tailored to meet expressed need.

These attributes are therefore embodied in our second chance sub-programme Next Steps Training Initiative and the refocused and retooled Barbados Youth ADVANCE Corps, which has been expanded to two years.  It will incorporate a wide range of future work skills training and an expanded work experience component.

My Ministry will continue to embark on an ambitious agenda by partnering with the Ministries of Education Technological and Vocational Training, Finance, Economic Affairs and Investment and Labour and Social Partnership Relations as well as the private sector to create over one thousand new jobs for young Barbadians every year.

My Ministry will also ensure that three out of every four young Barbadians are actively involved in a national or community group as well as to actively learn a new life skill.  Very important for me, will be a national effort to facilitate a reduction in the number of young people incarcerated annually by half.  

My Ministry will also seek to identify and develop the leadership skills of at least two hundred and fifty young Barbadians drawn from across each parish. It is also our intention to recommend at least one highly capable young person on all major Government Committees and Statutory Boards so as to expose them to national duty at the higher level.

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Big ambition? Absolutely! Can we achieve this and more? Certainly!

To realize this “best place in the world to be young” vision, our country has to overcome the everyday disadvantages of being a Small Island Developing State; namely a small population, a limited economy, limited natural resources, vulnerability to natural disasters, and a difficult history.

Our vision must therefore be a future Barbados, where being small is used as an advantage. Our lack of scale means that we must focus on quality over quantity. Our threat of external shocks must cause us to build resilience and adaptability; and our limited resources must propel our innovation and efficiency.

On this Caribbean Youth Day, I exhort you to: Come, get on board and let us work with our young people to join their lights and set our Barbados and Caribbean aglow.  Let us seek to achieve a common destiny of promoting and supporting a unified Caribbean Community that is inclusive, resilient, competitive, sharing in economic, social and cultural prosperity.

In closing, this Government will continue creating the enabling environment that will allow you our young people the opportunity to hone your skills, talents and abilities and to contribute in a meaningful way to Barbados’ development.

I therefore wish you God’s guidance, protection and blessings as we celebrate Caribbean Youth Day.

Thank you.

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