Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s decision to expand and invest more in the Barbados Youth Service – soon to be rebranded the Barbados Youth ADVANCE CORPS – could be the defining moment of her political career. Notwithstanding her Government’s efforts to restore economic equilibrium to the island, her stated intention to invest heavily in young people who might otherwise fall through the social cracks in our country has the potential for profoundly positive repercussions.
Since its inception more than two decades ago, the Barbados Youth Service has, without tremendous fanfare, transformed the lives of many young people in the island. It has been one of the success stories in the island that has not been unduly sullied by politics or used as a political football in the furtherance of careers. The focus has always been on the youth and giving second chances to those who might not have availed themselves of the opportunities they had at secondary school. It has provided additional training in technical and life skills for those school-leavers transitioning into the world of work. Most significantly, its core goal of promoting discipline to trainees has generally ensured that those graduating from the programme are better off mentally and physically for their short sojourn. Dedicated counselling at the institution has changed and saved lives. The likes of UNICEF child advocate Faith Marshall-Harris, former magistrate and now registrar of the Supreme Court Barbara Cooke-Alleyne, are among several individuals who are on record singing the praises of the Barbados Youth Service and highlighting the life-altering role it has played for many young people.
But over the years the Barbados Youth Service has suffered as a result of insufficient funding and the absence of its own facility to call home. But those responsible for the programme have persevered. Much credit must be given to successive governments.
Now Miss Mottley has signalled her intention to take the Barbados Youth Service to a level not seen previously. In outlining her plans for the institution yesterday, the Prime Minister had this to say: “The Barbados Youth ADVANCE CORPS will subsume the limited Barbados Youth Service which only now takes in less than 200 people. But it is intended to take young people who have left school in the last two years and to take between 800 to 1,000 persons per year.”
She added: “That two-year period will be a combination of learning, discipline, citizenship reinforcement and also the ability to participate in some form of work attachment, first job initiative, apprenticeship or mentorship depending on the individual.
“The benefits of this new programme would be that whereas the Barbados Youth Service was limited to one year and six months during the service day-to-day including a 12-week residential and then six months on a work attachment, this one will be a two-year programme.”
She explained that the intake would be done in four tranches, with the first starting in September, then in October, January and February. The trainees – 16 to 23 years-old – would be exposed to a variety of training and career development programmes in the areas of technology, agriculture, robotics, construction, conflict resolution, communication, navigation, outdoor survival, physical training, financial management and budgeting, arts and craft, drama and music, culinary arts and swimming, some of which are already on the curriculum.
Such an overall expansion, as well as the stated intention to provide a monthly stipend of $600 to the trainees, is an expensive undertaking and Miss Mottley has indicated that approximately $20 million will be budgeted for the initiative. It will be money well spent.
The Barbados Youth Service has also carried a paramilitary element to it that has played a major role in the fostering of discipline and this will be maintained.
The construction of a home for the Barbados Youth Service has already started and with the heightened thrust and enthusiasm being injected into the programme, we anticipate that this facility is likely to be up and operational more sooner than later.
Politicians, police, priests, parents, et al, have had their say on the increasing violence in Barbadian society, especially among young people. Many speak to the negative influences to which many are exposed, their lack of self worth and the limited opportunities especially for those who leave secondary school without certification. Over the years the Barbados Youth Service has been part of the initiative to redress such problems. We shudder to think how worse it could be without such an intervention. Of course, not every potentially deviant young person will be saved. There will be success stories and there will be failures. It is up to our youth to seize this second day.
Prime Minister Mottley seems bent on meeting the challenge of giving more hope to more young people. Hers is an initiative that transcends political affiliation and boundaries. There can be no dissenting voice. This is bigger than politics. We have seen the transformation of Barbadian society through free education. Let’s hope that forty, fifty years hence, that civility, respect for our elders and institutions, law and order and basic good manners can filter through communities and an improvement in our social dynamics can be linked to those who walked into the Barbados Youth ADVANCE CORPS and marched out of it two years later the better for the experience.