Now is the time
Discussing solutions and engage rural youth
Most of you must have heard of British Council in Sri Lanka. Whether it’s for the IELTS exam, English classes, the library, active citizenship programme, the numerous events throughout the year, this institution located in the midst of a bustling city opens their gate to those willing to learn and immerse themselves in new knowledge. The British Council Sri Lanka aims to influence and encourage society and community leaders who can bring about changes in social, educational and cultural policies to increase their own potential on a global scale. Ms. Sanjeewani Munasinghe, the Head of Programmes and Mr. Eranda Ginige, the Head of Partnerships and Innovation at the British Council shared their opinions on the youth meet-up that took place in September.
As participants of the event, they were able to provide a critical point of view as they believed that the programme was able to open up new avenues for discussion and enable the youth to share their opinions among peers in regard to the debated issue. However they reiterated that the way forward was following the conclusion of the event as the most important aspect for it will allow for the influencing of strategies and policies and enable the youth to be actively involved. According to them, the youth participation in policy and decision making can contribute to equality and transparency in youth issues.
The topic of “Civic and political youth participation and the use of technology” invited the youth to share their ideas on what they think should be the way forward for the political environment of our country and how should we incorporate technology. The topic allowed for a variety of social issues to be discussed such as access to education, domestic violence, rural communities, youth and well-being, child protection being a few key topics. Eranda was of the opinion that despite the choice of a pressing social issue as a topic of discussion, the manner in which it was approached did not bring forth much of the spirit or value to the discussion. He viewed that the youth were more focused on discussing the prevalent faults as opposed to finding solutions and ways forward to existing issues, as the aim of such events is to give an opportunity for forward thinking solutions to social problems. However, he applauded the youth participants for being passionate about raising their voices regarding their concerns for their fellow peers.
A few youth politicians representing various political parties were present at the summit, ‘their late arrival and abrupt departure following the expression of their opinions could be seen as an insult to the youth participants who view these political figures as individuals capable of representing the youth’, notes Sanjeewani. This is a start and despite busy schedules participating in the initial discussion is much appreciated and we look forward to constructively engaging our young politicians as we move ahead!
In retrospect, Eranda states ‘...the lack of incentive by the youth politicians for the summit became a disadvantage because if they knew the principle objective, then they would have been able to contribute vastly in the discussion from their personal perspective.’
Sanjeewani and Eranda voiced that the representation was largely limited to urban areas and thereby the discussion was biased and opinionated. Eranda voiced that in order to ensure that an empathetic and wider understanding of social issues prevails at an event of this caliber, wider and diverse representation is necessary.
As we know, social issues are intimately connected to our daily lives. Sanjeewani states ‘…if similar programs are conducted in a provincial or district level, it would be possible to receive a wider input as opposed to an urban-centric view. Youth should have access and be made aware of youth strategies, policies or dialogues in place as this would empower them as a collective to initiate sustainable action in community and self-development.’ She further mentions that despite the youth not having the capacity for decision-making power, they must be given the opportunity to voice their views and concerns regarding issues that pertain to them. This would lead to a better understanding between the youth and authority figures and thereby improve youth participation.
Sanjeewani and Eranda shared the view that it is time now for youth to be part of discussions and forums in where innovative ideas are exchanged and solutions are found to address issues concerning them.
With the advanced technology we have today, can we not expect far reaching engagement from youth when it is for the social development of the country?
Author – Ayuni Munasinghe