Our future carries so much promise, as well as insecurity. Youth are the ones who will determine which one will come to pass. Their choices can either usher Jamaica into a new age of unity and hope, or add to collective wounds and lead the country into an era of further division and maybe even hopelessness. Our youth, no matter their social class, gender or political leaning, hold immense power. So why not invest in them now, to create the country we want to see in a few year’s time?
While this is much easier said than done, we need to hold on to the fact that it can be done. We, at Jalawelo, have been working with young people in Jamaica for several years now. Over these years, we have refined how we engage with and help our youth. We believe our approach towards young adults is the best way we can impact their lives, in order to impact our future.
So, what is our approach? It can be broken into 7 key components…
1. Pay No Attention to Stereotypes
We learn who our youth really are…
Our Young Adult Circle (YAC) program helps youth who come from volatile communities and can often be ignored by society. However, this does not come close to fully describing who the youth whom we help are. Our country has countless young adults who are kind, honest and selfless. Many are bursting at the seams with creativity and innovation. Some can, at times, be fragile and insecure, while at other times, be armed with a rare confidence and extreme resilience.
In short, Jamaica’s young people are complex human beings with amazing potential.
Here at Jalawelo, we know this only because of our own experiences with some of them. Our media can sometimes paint a gloomy, overly simplistic picture of youth from a certain social background. Due to this, one can be led to believe that all such youth share a certain mindset or culture which needs to corrected. While this may be true for some, we disregard any preconceived notions and consciously try to approach each one with open minds. While we do research about their backgrounds, we never assume to know what they’re like as people until we meet them ourselves.
2. Help to Build on Unique Plans
We refuse to do a “one-size fits all” program for our young people. Such an approach chooses to ignore the distinct ways in which each person may need our help. Of course, we acknowledge the common needs shared amongst our at-risk youth. But we also refuse to ignore their differences. Every person is unique. Each one has a unique set of fears, skills, problems and dreams. We get to know each youth on a deeply personal level to learn their uniqueness before journeying with them to craft a customized plan to fit each individual youngster.
Each youth’s plan is highly personalized and extremely detailed. Such plans, which we call Individualized Education and Development Plans (IEDPs), aim to chart out a course towards their next desired step in life. It focuses on gently pushing the person’s educational, personal, and professional paths towards a higher degree of success.
3. Be In It for the Long Haul
We treat our young adults with extreme patience and commitment. Some may have gone through a traumatic event in the past… But, with God’s help, we are committed to helping each person overcome it. Complete healing may take months or maybe even years. But we believe our youth can get there somehow. And we’re excited to walk with each of them, no matter how long or difficult it may be.
We ignore cookie cutter notions of personal growth. We know that the journey to improve one’s life is rarely neat and easy. It’s often messy and long, filled with many steps forward as well as some steps back. Our mentors, who come from various walks of life, form real bonds with our young adults and commit to being a guiding ear throughout their journeys. It is this kind of faithfulness which we try to maintain in all our programs at Jalawelo.
4. Believe in Their Ability
Although we are sensitive to the damaging experiences which some may undergo, we do not believe that having been a victim to such things removes their ability to take action in their lives. We hope to empower each person to bring about some positive change in their own lives.
By saying they have agency, we do not give the rest of us in society a pass to leave them alone to do things themselves. Instead, we simply mean that we remember their ability to help themselves as well. If we offered to do everything for them, we would be ignoring the fact that they have their own set of skills, talents and ideas which they can use to contribute to changing their own lives. We’re simply here to offer additional resources and support while walking alongside them on their respective journeys.
5. Encourage Youth to Help Others
While we focus on their personal challenges and opportunities with them, we also encourage them to continually look outside of themselves. We promote this by fostering bonds among our youth, so they can inspire each other on their respective walks. Each YAC session creates a safe environment for the youths to openly discuss their opinions on different life issues. Such group discussions encourage empathy and respect for one’s peers, along with healthy conflict resolution among members.
Apart from these sessions, we also create opportunities for them to work together through volunteer activities. By helping others, our youth can take a break from their own circumstances and, instead, focus on others' - even if for a while. They can help to build up their community and hopefully inspire others in the community to do the same.
6. Keep It Practical
We offer personal as well as practical support. Our goal is to get each young adult to the next practical step on their desired life journeys. To do so, we use technology to offer virtual academic training. We think technology not only can allow for more dynamic lessons to be taught, but is also fit for a generation which operates in the 21st century. Apart from this, we also teach professional skills so that each person learns how to operate in the work world to the best of their ability. Furthermore, we connect our youth to income generating opportunities so they can better support themselves.
7. We Mean Business
Finally, we choose to work with young people who are serious about changing their lives for the better. We want to meet people at whichever point they’re at in life and help them from here. But the person themself should be highly motivated. Our young adults understand that we can’t do it for them. They need to be committed enough to put in hard work consistently. With their diligence and drive, we believe our support will help to get them closer to their dreams!
All in all, our youth deserve our best. They require support from people who will approach them without cultural assumptions, who acknowledge their uniqueness, who are committed, who believe in them, who encourage them to help others, and who offer practical help. We must respect our future leaders, business people, artists and teachers by making sure we deal with them in the right way today.