On Wednesday, February 27th, young Belizeans from across the length and breadth of the country gathered at the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate the launch of the National Youth Development Policy of Belize. The policy was developed after extensive consultation with youths from urban and rural areas in every district of the country. According to the Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Hon. Patrick Faber, “The policy is reflective of the vision and drive of our Belizean youths and their ability to harness their abilities to achieve a common goal.”
The first National Youth Policy was ratified by Cabinet in 2001. There was no real effort to implement the policies of the document and a decision was made to update it in 2006. The policy remained in draft state on a bureaucrat’s desk until the Ministry of Education and Youth partnered with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2011 in an agreement to revisit the Draft National Youth Development Policy with an aim to update the policy based on new approaches. That new approach was based on youth leadership. Throughout the consultation process, the youths directed the conversation and drove the debate. UNICEF representatives explained that there were to be separate consultations with youths in each district; however, the youths became totally engaged and the process featured a travelling party in which youths travelled from district to district in order to get their peers involved in the development of the national policy.
The main features of the policy are geared toward the achievement of social cohesion, increased economic opportunities, improved healthcare and quality education. Since over seventy percent of the population is under the age of thirty-five years, the youths believe that there needs to be greater youth involvement at decision making levels in Government and civil society organizations. Minister Faber said, “Being a young nation, our goal must be to strengthen youth and our community by ensuring the development of internal and external assets that increases the resiliency of youths moving them from a system of being lead to a system where they lead.”
The National Youth Development Policy was adopted by the Government of Belize on January 8th, 2013. At the launch on Wednesday, youths shared their experiences in the drafting of the policy through poems, dramas, dances and other forms of art. Youth leaders expressed their joy for finally seeing years of work pay off. However, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Hon. Herman Longsworth, explained that the launch of the National Youth Development Policy is “not the end of a process but the start of a partnership between the Government, youths, youth stakeholders and the region in moving our youth agenda forward”. Longsworth encouraged the youths to remain vigilant and active in ensuring that the recommendations in the policy are fully implemented.
Longsworth said, “The future of Belize rests on the shoulders of the youth: their vision, dedication, enthusiasm, skills and their ability to cope with and manage change and challenges as well as their ability to recognize and grasp opportunities for growth which will enable them to reach their full potential and in turn translate to positive growth for the nation.”