Feature Address by Hon. Volda Lawrence, M.P., Minister of Social Protection Launch of the Youth Empowerment Services (YES) Project

 

Ministry of Social Protection, Guyana, November 28, 2016

Protocols.

A pleasant good morning to everyone.

YES is a positive response that everyone welcomes if and when a request is made.  This little word has tremendous impact because it is a source of joy; it brings a smile, even laughter and signals the go-ahead between the parties in question. I wish to draw a parallel to YES, not the answer, but to the acronym which represents Youth Empowerment Services, and to state how delighted I am that the United States Agency for International Development Eastern and Southern Caribbean has designed this project targeting youths in the area of crime and violence in target communities in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean.

The Ministry of Social Protection is particularly happy for this intervention in Guyana because not only does it lend support to its mandate which includes the protection, well-being and empowerment of our youths, but especially since there is a high incidence of youth involvement in crime and violence at this juncture in many of our communities.

Yes, it is indeed a pleasure for me to be participating in this launch of the YES Project in Guyana and I would like to express my appreciation to the USAID/ESC for the foresight and timeliness of this project for our sister states in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean where youth involvement in crime and violence is so rife. I recognize that the YES Project is designed to create a safer, more prosperous Caribbean Community and to build the capacity of regional bodies, national governments and community stakeholders. In an attempt to fulfill this objective, the USAID/ESC has focused its attention on the youths of the Region to reduce their involvement in crime and violence. This initiative is extremely important for the Caribbean as it supports the efforts of the Community to respond positively to the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and Pillar Three of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative. Empowerment of youths is or should be prioritized on all our national agendas and it is therefore critical that the barriers or obstacles be examined and strategies be developed so that national governments can achieve the targets of the SDGs, in promoting social justice and in supporting youth crime and violence prevention efforts.

I wish to focus my attention on youths in the Guyanese society and the significance of this YES Project for our vulnerable young adults. In all our Administrative Regions, there are a number of factors among which is the worrying phenomenon of the high drop-out rate from our schools particularly among the boys. This means that a good proportion of our young boys has abandoned the education support and resorted to liming at the street corners. Unable to find employment due to a lack of requisite knowledge and life-skills, they become involved in nefarious activities and thus begins for some a life of crime, for others crime and violence.

YES will help us in this regard, because the Project will seek to define the local youth crime and violence problem/s. It will examine the factors responsible for youth involvement in crime and violence and will collate and analyze the data. The YES project envisions, first and foremost, targeting interventions to address risk and protective factors facing target communities and at-risk youths, and will then test and adjust interventions to ensure impact; it will share these results to build a broad evidence-base which will be used to develop policies and programs aimed at reducing the risk factors that drive youth crime, violence and victimization.

This model approach, I am convinced, will assist all our agencies and the Ministry in our efforts to reduce criminal activities in our communities, especially the more remote locations. Data-collection is an important and integral part of any intervention and I anticipate that the YES project will direct local stakeholders, once the problems are identified, to develop local solutions, to tailor interventions that have a strong positive youth development approach, interventions which will increase youth’s protective factors or resilience. In perusing the Plan of Action,

I have noticed that the Project has earmarked a number of crime-reducing interventions ranging from after-school programs and building youth’s readiness for employment to family counseling, psychosocial support and mentoring for higher-risk youth. As I mentioned earlier, the launch of this YES project is opportune and will complement the efforts already underway to provide support for our Youths.

Another interesting aspect of the Project is the focus on the Juvenile Justice System where it intends to work towards an increase in the use of alternative sentencing for youth in conflict with the law, to ensure that detention centers foster rehabilitation and support for their reintegration into society. I am particularly happy, because this boosts the Ministry’s vision for alternative sentencing which it had highlighted in its agenda for meeting the needs of youths in conflict with the law. It is the Ministry’s belief that our youths more than ever need our support and it defeats our purpose if we make no effort to rehabilitate them and give them a chance to make a meaningful contribution to the society. Youths are our future assets and we must be prepared to make investments for their well-being. The Caribbean needs its youths for sustainable development for the Region; Guyana needs its youths to elevate themselves, to extricate themselves from the vice of crime and violence that is so rampant and to hook on to programs offered by BIT, the Government Technical Institute and other skill-developing agencies. They need to change their mindset and transform their lives, the community and society in which they exist.

YES is promoting a community-based approach, targeting communities with the highest level of crime and violence. It envisages using the data to better target youth crime and violence prevention policy and programming. This is a strategic and welcoming approach, because the problems are inherent in the community where we find our at-risk youth and we need to reach them and educate them before they are drawn and caught in the web of crime and violence.

There is quite a lot to be done if we are to break the linkages in the chain of violence. So I want to exhort all to become involved; it’s not the efforts of a few that will impact and resolve the issues of our youth; it’s the collective effort that will be much more effective. Over the past months, several initiatives for our youth have been launched by the Ministry in collaboration with UNFPA, UNICEF, and WAD; the Ministry has also supported a multi-sectoral approach and work is in progress by several Ministries to stimulate the development of our youth; all this is being done within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals.

As I close, I want to reinforce the analogy that I began with. We say with one accord a loud “yes” to the YES Project designed by the USAID/ESC. It is my hope, as the Agency focuses on capacity-building of the Family, the Community the Resilience of Youth, in an effort to reduce crime and violence, that as many agencies and organizations will take the opportunity not only to show solidarity, but to participate actively in this campaign to dissuade our youths from the path of criminal activity and lure them onto the road of entrepreneurial success and empowerment.

It is my distinct pleasure to launch the Youth Empowerment Services 2016 and I wish to assure the USAID/ESC Agency of the Ministry’s commitment to this Project.

Thank you.

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