How Youth Advocacy Toolkit can help young people of Tobago

“We often feel, because we live in the Caribbean and the tourism sector is so big here, that many of the pressing social issues we face as Caribbean people are neglected and ignored, especially when it comes to issues of education faced by the most vulnerable among us,” Ancil Dennis, Tobago’s Assistant Secretary of Community Development & Culture, concluded after our talk.

I was moved by the passion in his voice. Months before, during my first visit to Trinidad & Tobago, I met with many students and parents who spoke to me with that same passion, articulating a different message.

Education, they told me, was thriving and deeply valued by society. From the ages of five to 16 it is both compulsory and free. Given the nation’s 98% literacy rate, the positive effects of this and other aspects of the Ministry of Education’s campaign to promote education had been a tremendous success.

This is why I was somewhat surprised but tried to remain hopeful in the face of this new picture Mr Dennis painted for me. As we discussed what the UN Youth Advocacy Toolkit was and how it could help Tobagan youth, he spoke of a literate youth that nevertheless remained apathetic and somewhat disappointed with the education system. “Youth unemployment,” he said, “is high and students are still not learning the skills they need to survive in the workforce.”

Since I believe, however, that these issues affect young people all over the world, I was eager to present the UN Toolkit to Mr Dennis as a powerful way for Tobago’s young to take charge of their future by learning how to advocate for change.

We talked about different ways to use the UN Toolkit and we also discussed how problems of education among the youth in the Caribbean go beyond the economic. Tobago’s tourism sector is saturated, with many seeing it as a road to easy money, and also believing that the economy provides them with few alternative options.

“Crime rates have increased among Tobagan youth, and more and more young people are feeling powerless by the day to effect change in their lives,” he said. There were issues of broken homes, illegal drugs, sexual disease transmission and violence from gangs etc.

In my introduction of the toolkit, and in response to this, I mentioned powerful examples in the toolkit of youth advocates who confronted similar obstacles and overcame them by petitioning and pressuring governments to effect change. I told Mr Dennis I was convinced that in situations like those faced by Tobagan youth, knowledge of how to hone in on the problems of disempowerment, understand how to properly engage those issues, how to plan one’s strategy for engagement and then execute that strategy, are essential to advocate in the fight against unemployment and apathy in society. I believe the beauty of the UN Youth Advocacy Toolkit is that its chapters are designed to do just that in a simple and direct fashion.

“Let’s read more,” he said. We continued to peruse the toolkit together, going through the stories of Rolando and Sumaya, until Mr Dennis – impressed by the stories and hard work that were put into the book – was convinced of something I have believed in since I became personally involved in youth advocacy: the empowerment of the youth is best inspired by the youth since, more than anyone, they understand and empathise with the challenges faced by young people worldwide.

Regardless of land of birth, socio-economic status, culture, or language, there is a universal cry made around the world for the voice of the youth to be heard. I believe part of the Assistant Secretary for Community and Development’s passion for the UN Youth Advocacy Toolkit came from the fact that he saw the youth of Tobago in the toolkit’s own examples of young people seeking change.

Motivated by this, we started a partnership to work together to plan for workshops and after school as well as community events to teach ways in which the toolkit can be employed in Bucco Point, Pigeon Point and other areas of the island.

It could foster policies and social movements that promote jobs, protect Tobago’s tourism economy by protecting the environment and encourage young people to take charge of their futures while making a meaningful difference on the island.

Now that I’ve returned to New York, we continue our partnership by providing support in the form of pedagogical materials (i.e. presentations, webinars etc.) to support proper teaching of the toolkit’s lessons. And, most importantly, with fellow youth ambassadors Latoya Roberts and Tyrrell Gittens, both based in Trinidad & Tobago, we are looking for ways to increase our remote and locally-based collaboration as we move forward in the fight to improve education in Trinidad & Tobago and throughout the Caribbean.