The Summer of Youth

July 9th, 2015

The long, hot summer of 2015 stretches ahead of us. We are entering a deep drought.

How are our young people going to spend those endless hours? The summer vacation is remarkably long, and only a small minority of young Jamaicans are lucky enough to travel or even to get out of their neighborhood for a week or two. Time stretches from July to September, and must be filled, somehow, with productive activities.

Of course, there are summer camps aplenty. Most of them have a fee attached, and most do not last longer than three or four weeks. You can learn French the fun way, at the Alliance Française. The well-established EduTech Summer Camp will include fencing lessons this year (there is a Jamaica Fencing Federation – who knew?) The Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory at the University of the West Indies offers its Summer Eco-Camp, including sports, environmental learning, snorkeling, art and craft, field trips. BirdsCaribbean will hold a special Summer Bird Camp at Hope Zoo from July 20 – 24 ahead of its 20th International Meeting in Kingston… Sometimes I wish I was a child, again.

Mary Seacole Hall's I'm Glad I'm a Girl Foundation (an excellent mentoring initiative) will continue its week of empowerment for girls this month.

Mary Seacole Hall’s I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation (an excellent mentoring initiative) will hold another week of empowerment for girls this year. The Foundation is seeking donations, support and volunteers.

While many of these activities do involve the children’s parents digging deep in their pockets, there are many that are less expensive. Our marvelous network of public libraries usually offer summer programs, and the state-funded parish Youth Information Centres (YIC), albeit cash-strapped, do their best to engage teenagers in programs that will build self-esteem. The Clarendon YIC, for example, offers sessions on emotional wellbeing and mental health; coping with everything that life throws at you is hard for our youth. There are a lot of missiles (or, in cricket terms, “googlies”) being hurled, these days, especially for those in the more challenged communities across the island. These efforts need our support. Find out what youth groups are working in your area during the summer, and see if you can lend a helping hand.

The children of Trench Town Reading Centre with their creations at last year's summer camp.

The children of Trench Town Reading Centre with their creations at last year’s summer camp.

Many such communities do come up with activities for their children – often operating on a shoestring. Last year, the Trench Town Reading Centre (whose free summer camps are legendary) kept cool with a series of “polar” activities – focusing on penguins and their wonderful and fascinating ways. I recall one little boy interestingly called the penguin he made “Unnu.” Fun and creativity is key. Stimulation can take place at so many different levels, and sometimes all it needs is some colored paper and glue.

I worry about the older children, though. It’s harder to engage them with all the distractions of life out there. I think more emphasis on coordinated volunteer training for teens and youth in their early twenties is needed – a way for them to connect with their communities in a meaningful way. Through volunteering in specific areas, youth can explore a growing interest in sports, education or the environment, for example. Volunteerism is inspirational, and I have seen Jamaican youth become quite “hooked” on it. It can become a habit, a way of life – a new kind of life. It can lead to many opportunities for young people in the medium to long term, also. Building a successful “career” (whatever that means in the 21st century context) is about much more than earning a quick buck.

I know I was fortunate to have had a happy and secure European childhood. I have those summer holidays, in various rural settings stored in my memories: catching tiny fish in a muddy creek; exploring rock pools in Jersey (the Channel Islands); finding out that an insect called a hornet existed in the New Forest (which is actually quite old). The summer should be, for every young person, a time of discovery, no matter where you live. Because in uncovering some new truth, in an unexpected and enlightening experience, in establishing a new friendship, summer can help you grow up.

In a good way.



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