There is a preoccupation in Barbados with studies and policy papers. We have had green papers, white papers, blue papers; all manner of papers for many areas of endeavour. And in many instances they have served less purpose than toilet paper.
Often, these papers and studies provide receptacles for dust and termites, only to be referred to when an incident related to the documents presents itself and evokes national debate. It is the Barbadian way.
There is also a preoccupation with speeches. Often our politicians and policymakers attend official engagements or speak to the populace and give assurances of what will be done to solve the myriad problems that affect our country. Solutions and plans for the future are verbalized with great eloquence, and then all and sundry retreat to their homes, oblivious to the reality that their words –– like those of Don Quixote –– will only challenge windmills, but will not save the day.
At a time when we are concerned about the direction some of our young people are headed, more emphasis must be placed on one of the most important institutions in the island that does not get the attention it deserves.
Public and private sector interests in Barbados should be falling over each other in the rush to place the Barbados Youth Service on the front burner of national policy and as one of the most critical institutions in the island. But we get the impression that insufficient emphasis is being placed on this entity.
Those charged with the management of the Barbados Youth Service have done a spectacularly great job over the years. Our information is that those that serve our young people at the institution are among the most dedicated and hardworking individuals to be found in our educational and training set-up. Frequently, their mandate is carried out at great personal sacrifice and with less that adequate remuneration.
The programme was once residential, but is no longer so as the Barbados Youth Service has no official home. These young men and women were once housed at Harrison’s Point, St Lucy. And as if to show the importance with which they were held, when fire gutted Her Majesty’s Prisons at Glendairy in 2005, they were displaced to accommodate convicts.
This displacement went even further, as since that time the Barbados Youth Service has been unable to maintain the intake numbers it once accommodated. Meanwhile, promises of an imminent permanent home continue to be made by politicians and other empty speechifiers, oblivious to the fact that the Barbados Youth Service is a national gold mine.
There are many young people who leave school without certification or skills;
who have somehow fallen through the cracks in our secondary schools system; whose domestic and social circumstances provide fertile ground for deviancy; or who simply need another chance. There are reportedly hundreds –– perhaps thousands –– of success stories in Barbados linked to the Barbados Youth Service and its programmes.
A few years ago, former magistrate and UNICEF Champion for Children Faith Marshall-Harris had this to say about the Barbados Youth Service.
“Let me just add some praise for the Barbados Youth Service here. It is a most incredible organization. It is one of the best things that happens to young people in Barbados.
“When I was in Juvenile Court, I sent a lot of people to the Barbados Youth Service and became one of their biggest admirers because they turned those children who came in slouching, with low self-esteem, who could hardly speak or articulate their concerns –– within three months those children came back to the court and you were proud of them. Just three months.
“This is because the Youth Service is like superior parenting, because each child that goes there has an individual mentor who looks after them, who listens to them, who works out what they can do best, all their strengths, all their weaknesses and points them in the right direction; and it works out well for them. It works well for young people; and I would like to see more of this.”
Ms Marshall-Harris’ sentiments have been echoed by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth Ruth Blackman.
“Over the years, it [Barbados Youth Service] has proven to be a lifeline for many of our young people, especially those who are vulnerable. It has afforded second chances to those whose circumstances would have erected barriers in their path, thus thwarting their ability to realize their full potential. It has allowed those who were searching to find themselves and become productive citizens.
“Exposure to structured training in different areas, the opportunity to acquire CXCs, work experience and job attachments, as well as counselling, has resulted in a more disciplined person,” Ms Blackman said.
We do have a piece of paper called a National Youth Policy, but what the Barbados Youth Service needs is a permanent home –– not a piece of paper. The institution needs a home to be able to facilitate and accommodate; not turn away.
It has saved many young people. It can save more. Perhaps, it offers more than prayer.