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Youth, the agent of social change

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Message from the Secretary of Sport and Youth Affairs, Assemblyman Tracy Davidson-Celestine on the occasion of International Youth Day 2021 (August 12th).   Theme – Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health.

What if tomorrow was the day, you changed your life? If you had an opportunity to positively impact the world for yourself, your loved ones and the future, what would you do? Like it or not, these are the questions facing our boys and girls, the youth leaders of tomorrow. They’re taking decisions every day that could change our lives as we know it.

Six-year-old Tobagonian Jhaylen Edwards is one of those bright lights carrying the message of the future. The youngster shot to national headlines after Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley visited his Bethel garden. Jhaylen, like others, heeded the call for the public to grow more food during the country’s first COVID-19 lockdown in early 2020. He started his own home garden, often selling his produce online. Jhayen’s efforts, though unintentionally so, fit perfectly into this year’s theme for International Youth Day 2021: “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”.

Youth like Jhaylen embody the message of the future. A message where the next generation will shoulder this country’s growth and empower others through a solid social network. They’ll have the benefit of ever-advancing technology, backed by an arsenal of thought and action that can change the future of this island, while embracing our cultural heritage. While Jhaylen is probably too young now to know about Swedish youth environmental activist Greta Thunberg, he certainly understands her value system.

The 18-year-old Scandinavian has been challenging the environmental policies of world leaders for more than three years. Jhaylen and Greta represent a new world of young thinkers who are making their mark today.

Our policies and choices today impact the holistic development of youth through sport, education, life skills, physical and mental wellbeing, social support, agriculture and especially our natural and cultural heritage. Physical infrastructure can only go so far; it takes all of us—family, teachers, policy makers, influencers, mentors, role models and politicians—to create that solid foundation, a strong value system inspired from a tender age.

Youth action is indelibly connected to technology. It’s the future. This cannot be stopped nor slowed. The benefits of technology and opportunity must be finely balanced with the risks to development, peace and stability. And with its urgency further stoked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the intellectual and moral foundations of the youth must be strengthened now.

We have a chance to build the future we seek. We have a chance to use technology to narrow the gap between the rich and our most vulnerable citizens. To reduce the digital divide and the social inequalities that determine who have hope for the future, and those who are hoping for a future.

International Youth Day 2021 is a reminder that although Tobago’s future shines brightly in the distance, it will take the efforts of us all to take our young people confidently towards that horizon.