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Story Highlights

  • The Prime Minister’s Youth Awards for Excellence will be celebrating its “sweet sixteen” birthday this year with a number of changes.
  • The Awards will be held under the theme, ‘Celebrating Jamaican Youth…The Courage of Perseverance’.
  • Since 1998, the ceremony has highlighted youth excellence in academics, agriculture, entrepreneurship, the arts and culture, leadership, international achievement, sport, youth in service, and journalism.

The Prime Minister’s Youth Awards for Excellence will be celebrating its “sweet sixteen” birthday this year with a number of changes, which the organisers say will make the 2014 staging one with a difference.

The Awards, which is recognised as the most prestigious national honour bestowed upon outstanding young Jamaicans between 15 and 24 years, will be held under the theme, ‘Celebrating Jamaican Youth…The Courage of Perseverance’.

Since 1998, the ceremony has highlighted youth excellence in academics, agriculture, entrepreneurship, the arts and culture, leadership, international achievement, sport, youth in service, and journalism.

When the Youth Awards was announced in 1998, there were only four awardees, including Scripps Howard Spelling Bee Champion, Jody-Ann Maxwell, and Jamaican Footballer Ricardo “Bibi” Gardner.

Over the years, the number of nominations have increased and this year, 41 young persons have been shortlisted from a total of 124 applications said Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Youth Award Selection Committee, Ohene Blake.

“I know it’s a very special ceremony. Certainly, it is different from the previous years. We are aiming to showcase young people in excellence in a number of spheres, rather than the traditional Jamaican Youth in Concert that would normally accompany the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards,” he revealed.

Mr. Blake said changes have also been made to the Awards policy and procedures.

“We have made the criteria stricter, raised the short listing criteria to really get to the “cream of the crop” of young persons,” he said.

Mr. Blake said the nomination process was also broadened to reach more youth. “We saw a large number of nominations coming from rural Jamaica, which was not the case in the previous years and we were really able to pull out and be able to assess the achievements of young persons, particularly in deep rural Jamaica,” he added.

Mr. Blake noted that even persons who were not shortlisted “had very high standards of achievements.”

“We have a responsibility as a society and a country, to promote and encourage those who are doing well to do even better so that they can bring up those who are in the middle and as a society we move forward,” he said.

Noting the importance of parents and guardians in molding the youth, Mr. Blake stated that all the nominees interviewed had attributed their achievements to strong family and parental support.

Addressing the programme’s impact on the youth, Mr. Blake said it is one of the many initiatives that have inspired young people to achieve. He stated that over the years at-risk youth have been invited to the ceremony to hear of the successes of other young persons.

Additionally, he said, it has inspired the awardees “to excel and to do even better in their respective fields…it (the awards) has a great impact in saying, someone recognises what you are doing, particularly, in the thankless categories like voluntary service and youth work…or science where not many peers would take that route”.

The Chairman said the Awards has helped to build the resilience of young persons, in spite of the many other distractions.

“Reinforcing those young persons who are doing positive things helps to move the cohort in the right direction and it shows up in the good work that is being done as part of our holistic approach to youth development,” he added  pregnancy.

Nineteen-year-old Gavin Samuels, who is a former student of Jamaica College, told JIS that he is elated to be one of the shortlisted nominees.

“Just being nominated by my alma mater shows that I did, in fact, leave a stamp at Jamaica College and further, being a part of the shortlisted group shows that  the persons involved have a special interest in science and technology and that is something very important now-a-days,” he said.

Mr. Samuels is the first president of the Jamaica College Robotics Team to bring his team to the world championships of the USFIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Competition in 2013.

The team won the Inspire Award, which is the top award in the competition.

Mr. Samuels has also participated in the Junior Achievement’s ‘I’m NEXT’ leader’s conference in Canada, where he won the Global Vision Award for his project proposal on affordable housing solutions.

Nominated for the academics award, he is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts Degree in computer science with a minor in criminology at the University of the West Indies.

Nominee, Theo Smith, who has been selected for the entrepreneurship award said receiving the award would mean a lot to him and his team.  He is the owner of catering company Great House Caterers, which began in 2011, and provides part-time employment for 20 persons.

“It would mean a lot to me and my team who have also helped to put the company where it is today, which is in a very good place,” he said.

He noted that he was not taken seriously when he started his business at the age of 22. “Everyone thought it was a joke but after working and making a lot of achievements and having a good reputation, people started to take it more seriously,” he said.

Mr. Smith holds a Bachelors Degree in Food Service Management from the University of Technology.

“For those interested in being an entrepreneur, I would definitely say make sure you have all the knowledge you can possibly have of the industry that you are in. Knowledge is key and no matter what age you are and how much you know, there is never too much knowledge and in a competitive environment, knowledge makes you better,” he said.