Let us first define the youth. There is no universally agreed international definition of the youth age group. For statistical purposes, however, the United Nations—without prejudice to any other definitions made by Member States—defines ‘youth’ as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 or maybe up to 30 or 35 years based on our own settings. They must respect and abide under the law if they are to consider anything call success in their lives. We must also understand that the word “Building” here does not only connote infrastructure development; road construction, schools and hospitals. ‘Building’, also means developing our minds and our attitudes to be able to face the challenges that lie ahead of us as we grow older or as we culminate into mature adulthood. When our minds and attitudes are developed, we will not be misled, fooled or cajoled into doing things that will destroy that very future we are trying to protect.
The vision of our country lies in the hands of our youth. They are the ones who are filled with tremendous energies, towering opportunities and ambitions. It will be a great waste of human resources if they are not given the chance to get the required education, knowledge and training. We are all quite aware of the severity of illicit drug abuse and how it is affecting our youths. It has now become a normal trade and even a laughing matter, that if you don’t import huge quantity of illicit drugs like they have been doing recently, then you will not stand to be recognized as a man. Let’s just ponder over the things;
Please note that 140 million dollars worth of illicit drugs were recently seized.
* Not 140 million to improve school systems and pay teachers a take home pay
* Not 140 million to provide drugs for our desiring hospitals and clinics
* Not 140 million to assist in food crop production in Liberia
* Not 140 million to improve the health sector and decent pay for our doctors and nurse
* Not 140 million to improve water and light facilities
* Not 140 million to work on our poor sanitation
* Not 140 million to fix rehabilitation issues resulting from drug use
* Not 140 million to build more TVET ( Technical schools )
* Not 140 million to do many, many beneficial things for our country
The drug trade, if we are not careful will culminate into absolving all our 62% Youth into it. The society will be filled with so many addicts. When they can no longer find ways to support their habits, they will begin to walk into our homes and even attack us on the streets, demanding from people what they have not suffered to obtain. Posterity will gravely judge these importers including their children’s children. The best solution to the drug problem is to BAN it from Liberia instead of passing flimsy laws that do not work, especially with our porous borders and weak security. Our literacy rate is so low but we are here feeding the kids with killing drugs. Let’s look at a few statistics in Africa on some educational objectives:
This beautiful land needs them in order for it to become a brighter one tomorrow. I listened to BBC a few years ago and was thrilled to know that some IT engineers in Algeria were developing a ‘state of art’ IT application. This was expected to make huge gains for the country, with Europe being their focus market. This is what I wish for Liberia, some enviable adventures.
Nearly half of the people in the world today are under the age of 25 years. Effectively addressing the special needs of these youth is a critical challenge for the country. Individuals between the ages of 15 and 24, make up a huge number in our youthful population (over 62%), but are seldom recognized as a distinct group for the important role they should be playing in shaping the future. More than any other group, today’s young women and men will impact how people in rich and poor countries live in the 21st century, although we are still living in the 20th.
Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of our youth—especially young women—lack education, skills and job training, employment opportunities, and health services effectively limiting their future at a very early age. As a result, the youth may react by unleashing risky or harmful behavior against themselves, others, or the society. Although the youth may often be perceived as contributing to society’s problems, they are, in fact, important assets for the economic, political, and social life of our society.
The primary role of our youth then, is to get a good education or skills training in order to become better citizens of tomorrow. They need to learn skills to do the job that the country’s economy needs. They do not only need to read or write but to also think, understand, analyze, and discuss the issues their country faces. The entire success of the nation depends on them. However, in order for continuous success to take place, it is the government’s responsibility to provide the youth with proper facilities for getting equipped with the knowledge of these modern times.
Our youth are the offspring of life. They have the power to transform the nation into a better place. They also have the ability to lead their fellow citizens into the right direction. Our youth are our fighters; of course not fighters with sticks and guns, but fighters with bright ideas for nation building. Their ideas and positive thinking should fight for their identity in society, for equality, for the homeless, for those who are being bullied, for unemployment, exploitation, poverty and other problems which we face today. All of them should have hope for a Liberia full of opportunities. So they can be imbued with great minds and become better individuals. They need good morals and values to handle conflicts in a positive way.
We need aspiring doctors, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and who knows, maybe one day, the next President could be one of theirs. Illiteracy is a major problem in Liberia. More than an estimated 40% of the people who reside in villages and even in our immediate surroundings cannot read nor write ( in 2018, the literacy rate in Liberia was estimated at 48.3% ). The reason is there is utter ignorance and lack of initiatives to lead them in the right direction. Someone has to pull them up.
Here we are with a group of bike riders in their thousands ( estimated 163,000 bikes ) in whom I am very sure, are not doing anything to invest in their own education and to have some skills training. Yes, we hail them for doing a very good job of helping the transport system; but this will not be the end. By the time they reach adulthood, it will be too late and nothing would have been achieved. We will then inherit a group of adults who were once youths, and now looking for jobs, crying because of unemployment but have no skills except to ride a bike.
The nation is faced with a lot of challenges, and I believe that the youth are capable of helping to solve them. They only need to be given a chance to prove themselves. The youth have the power to unite our people around the country. Tribalism and sectionalism are an ongoing issue right now. It will get even worse as we move towards the election period; people will begin to surround themselves with those they see as their saviors because they come from the same village, town or hamlet. We should be looking for leaders who have good and impeccable moral characters, distinguished icons, and those who are able to articulate the views of the people.
There are a lot of crimes taking place in our society. If you visit the prison compounds around the country, you will find that most of the inmates are youths. You will also find a lot of girls, our future mothers sleeping in the streets because of a lack of focus, or, of no foundation. Our prisons should have skills training centers, where the alleged criminal, while serving his term can learn a skill and return to the society to become a useful person.
Some of our youth have many challenges and problems; family neglect, unemployment, limited opportunities to learn a skill, etc. The wise youth that we have out there should be taken into consideration. Some of them, though educated and well skilled, are unemployed. They are going around craving for jobs that are in the hands of unskilled and unqualified people who are there because of favoritism based on the contacts they have. They should be given an opportunity to expose their skills and intelligence to make themselves into someone useful. Some organizations and other firms should assist the youth so that they can make our land a great and educated nation again.
I was shocked about three years ago, to find out, during a quizzing contest ( used to be called meet the challenge between high schools ) for the upcoming Lenn Miller High School to beat an old lady like Tubman High School 65 to 5 points because they could not answer simple questions or even follow instructions from the moderator. The video clubs and the foreign football games have taken over our study rooms and libraries so that we do not even know, if we are asked, to name the country of origin of the scientist, the chemist who named the elements in the periodic table, let along to sing our own National Anthem.
In spite of all of these good attributes and positive ideas we expect of our youth, we see that some of them are engaged in a lot of mischief, misconduct and misrepresentation of the youth population around the country; we can name the destruction of properties in Nimba County belonging to Arcelor Mittal several years ago; the destruction and pillaging of facilities in Sinoe at the Golden Veroluem Palm Oil Company; the destruction of a hotel in Nimba; the burning of a Police station in Johnsonville; the burning of a police deport in Paynesville Red Light; major armed robberies with alleged security support; proven murder cases either over a football argument or accusations of depraved relationships; dope addicts lingering in the streets, amongst others. Please correct me if there were no youths involved.
The former president of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf even warned against this; outlining the negative effects of driving investors away from the country by our acts of vandalism. If you were to become a leader in our country tomorrow, how will you control those who will be perpetrating the very acts you supported yesterday? You disrespect your leaders but you expect others to honor you tomorrow? Life is a two-way street; do unto others as you will have them to do unto you, as the Bible says.
To conclude, the role of the youth in the nation building is crucial. They should be problem solvers, have a positive influence on other youth groups and the nation, and be extremely ambitious. They should have the ability to create an identity for themselves and to move the nation forward. However, they will not be able to do this without the support of the Government and other fellow citizens who share the responsibility of putting them in line if they create problems. By doing this, we will be able to reclaim our pride as a nation which was once lost. Lost due to our inability to understand our environment and the expectations of our people; lost due to our pride, greed, and the general attitude we have developed amongst ourselves of thinking that we are better than our next door neighbor where we choose, ‘to live and let the other die.” We are lost because we are unable to send our children to school but rather to send them in the streets to seek our daily bread. Some of our elders and well influential people in society severally use some of our youth to perpetrate evil deeds on their behalf to make blood sacrifices for the love of money and power. Are you kidding me? What was the purpose of the education you had? The blood of your dead victims will chase you everyday even if you are hiding under your bed. You will feel what it means to be heartless, you deceptive and blood thirsty vampires.
What Can The Authorities Do To Help The Youth?
As I mentioned, the task of creating a better youth does not only rest with parents and the society, it also rests with the government who is the mentor for all society. The government should take up its responsibilities and do what is right. These should not be limited to the following:
• Establish or repair rehabilitation centers for drug addicts
• Do whatever it takes to decommission drug sellers; put them out of business; BAN THE USE OF HAMFUL SUBSTANCES ( we have over 53,000 of the youth in Montserrado alone on drugs). In Rivercess County, 8 out of every 10 youths are on drugs
• Enact strong drug laws and enforce them ( I see enforcement as a serious problem )
• Build skills training centers in prisons to help transform the individual
• Open more opportunities for learning for the less fortunate
• Create policy to ensure that every child is in school
• Ensure social welfare opportunities for the youth
• Create part time jobs for struggling students
• Create job opportunities for young school graduates ( out of college or high school. Integrate them into the work force to prevent them from entering into bad habits and think of themselves as being responsible people.
• Encourage youth to be involved in community development
• Make appropriations in every budget for youth welfare and skills training
• Adapt judicial systems to fight against youth crime
• Build vocational training centers in every county
• Set up and enforce regulations that will prevent children from video clubs and street selling during school hours
• Set up regulations to prevent schools from having ‘super Fridays.’ This is where the use of illicit drugs takes place amongst the students.
As Liberians, if we do not stand up for something, we will fall for everything. There is a saying that says, ‘charity begins at home and ends abroad.’ Let us then concentrate on developing our youth for our future posterity.
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
– Nelson Mandela