Portland Youth Equipped to Advocate for Issues Affecting Them
KINGSTON, August 4, 2011 – On a Wednesday morning in the sea-side parish of Portland, over 30 adolescents and youth are eagerly awaiting the start of a two-day workshop in advocacy skills, led by the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) and the ASHE Performing Arts Company.
The workshop is part of the UNICEF-supported Jamaica Youth Advocacy and Partnership Initiative (JYPAI) – the only youth-led programme of its kind – being piloted in Kingston, Portland, St. James and St. Ann.
Implemented in collaboration with the National Centre for Youth Development, JYAPI is designed to equip adolescents and youth with advocacy skills and guide them in creating community-based advocacy clubs where they can apply what they have learned to speak out on issues affecting them.
One week before each training session, ASHE mounts a highly interactive edutainment production spotlighting some of these issues, as a way to engage adolescents and youth in discussion and recruit participants for the advocacy training – which includes using creative arts as a form of advocacy.
Captivated by ASHE’s staging of “Safe, Stupid or What” last week – a dramatic piece on issues of sexual and reproductive health – the young Portland trainees are now keen on developing their advocacy skills.
ASHE sets the tone for the workshop by laying ground rules and emphasizing that all “negative vibes goin get dash wey” into the nearby marina, dramatizing the act of clearing out unwanted attitudes and behaviours. The group enjoys this so much that they add to the rules while joining in the action.
Over the course of two days, the participants identify several issues affecting them, including unemployment, violence, lack of skills training, lack of recreational activities, poor political representation, poor road conditions, drug abuse and risky sexual behaviour, as well as Portland’s vulnerability to natural disasters.
On the final day of training, participants were asked to prepare skits which depicted scenarios in which advocacy would be an appropriate response. The purpose of the skit was to encourage participants to apply taught concepts and skills in a practical way. The most important of these concepts are self-confidence, reliance upon and belief in one’s self and the realization that by changing ourselves, we can change the world.
The skits gave rise to a discussion on transformation and change and Shane, the ASHE trainer, remarks on the transformation that he has seen among participants over the two days. The changes ranged from seemingly small matters such as posture and eye-contact to a noticeable ability to work through the advocacy process, from self-evaluation to conveying one’s message. Shane fittingly notes that “transformation is beginning now”. As the discussion ensues, Horaine becomes vocal.
Horaine is a 22 year old young man who says he has always referred to himself as a youth advocate, though he had no prior training. He has used sport to foster camaraderie in his Millbank community and has advocated for skills training for youth so that delinquency can decrease. Horaine has also been a member of the Portland Youth Council and Youth Club.
Perhaps the most outstanding thing about Horaine on this day is his boldness. He speaks with confidence to another participant, who they call World Boss, and points out that he encouraged World Boss to attend the training sessions because of his influence in the community. And Horaine is right – World Boss’ attendance brings three additional participants who do not show up the following day, neither does World Boss.
The potential noted in Horaine is also seen by youth agencies in Portland. As he prepares to move to the capital of Kingston in hopes of employment opportunities, they encourage him to stay in Portland, emphasizing that the parish needs him.
The irony of Horaine’s move to Kingston is seen in his advocacy for skills training and employment for youth in the parish. With the formation of the new Advocacy Club in Portland, the hope is that many more with Horaine’s passion won’t have to leave the parish to attain self-actualization.
On the final day of the training, as banners and easels are removed and packed up, a young man stands up and gives a heartfelt vote of thanks. Kemesha, the JYAN coordinator, remarks that it is moments like those that make it all worthwhile.