Listen, ask for their opinions

AN important aspect of youth policy development is that ample space must be given to youths to voice their sentiments on ways and means of providing support that will effectively help them to develop their full potential. This article reports on a national focus group survey conducted in September 2015 in the provinces of Bua, Cakaudrove, Macuata, Ra and Ba.

One of the major challenges of youth work in Fiji is that many members of youth groups tend to be young adults above the age of 30. The voices of youth especially in the 15 to 25 age group is seldom heard so this particular focus group survey specifically targeted them.

Youth issues addressed

The national youth focus survey enabled respondents to discuss key thematic areas as highlighted in the National Youth Policy.

One of the thematic areas dealt with climate change and environmental issues: Respondents noted that there needed to be more activities (training workshops and action projects) in natural resource management and climate change.

In the area of political participation, it was noted that given the substantive size of the youth population, more youth candidates needed to be encouraged to run for Parliament in 2018. It was felt that bright young people could be mentored through participation in annual Youth Parliament sittings. School parliamentary education workshops were also effective avenues of nurturing budding politicians.

In the area of civic education, it was pointed out that church groups needed to concentrate on their core messages of integrity rather than being bogged down with doctrines. Faith-based activities needed to be organised around values/moral education and contextualised to the situation of youth groups.

It was felt that the expressive arts can be used as a form of peer education to help youths deal with peer pressure and other social challenges. It was raised that youth leaders needed to be mindful of dress codes and the cultural etiquette of conservative rural communities.

In the area of communications and social media, it was raised that there was a need to go beyond the leisure use of social media to its potential for e-jobs. Youths were spending a lot of time on social media for so many other pursuits rather than productivity and skills development.

In the areas of employment, respondents noted that there needed to be more non-formal education types of training on what the job market requires. Financial literacy training, for example, needed to be mounted to enable youths to become more entrepreneurial in using domestic resources to generate and manage their income streams. Training programs should also provide specific competencies that match jobs in both the local and overseas job markets.

Ministry of Youth and Sports

On discussions on the ministry’s support services and the National Youth Policy, respondents noted the ministry should also nurture other sports rather than just the major ones like rugby and netball. New sports that were highlighted included touch rugby, beach volleyball, gridiron and baseball

There was a need to encourage more leisure sports activities in youth groups given the high rate of non-communicable diseases and other health challenges. It was discussed that the ministry should be actively involved in sports in rural areas rather than leaving this activity to the Fiji Sports Council or Fiji National Sports Commission. It was felt the ministry had crucial linkages to youth networks.

In one province, it was raised that Ben Ryan had insisted that the Olympic gold medal winning Fiji rugby sevens team drink 100 green coconuts daily while they were in training camp. The role of local foods and nutritious drinks was also shared. This sentiment however was not generally shared by youths in the national focus group survey.

On the ministry’s interventions, it was noted that there should be greater collaboration between the ministry and youth groups on meaningful cultural and spiritual activities that encouraged young people to move away from negative practices such as excessive alcohol and kava consumption. It was felt that there should also be some focus on counselling especially on mental health issues. Respondents in all five provinces noted the commendable work carried out by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in youth development.

* Dr Joseph Veramu is an economic planning consultant and can be contacted on joseph.veramu@outlook.com. This is the third of a series of articles that are based on research undertaken by the writer for the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

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