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JIS News

For the majority of persons, who have made mistakes and ended up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, the luxury of a comeback is a pipe dream.
But for thousands of Jamaican youth, who are benefiting under the National Youth Link-Up Programme, the second chance that seemed a distant wish is fast becoming a reality.
The National Youth Link-Up Programme, which is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture through the National Centre for Youth Development (NCYD) in collaboration with several agencies, is the government of Jamaica’s gift to its 144,000 unattached youth. Through the initiative, a chain of hope has been extended to youngsters needing a second chance at life.
An intervention programme, Youth Link-Up targets unemployed and untrained youth, and aims to empower them to take advantage of employment opportunities.Programme Co-ordinator with the NCYD, Junior Rose, tells JIS News that the initiative, which is still in its fledgling stage, has made inner city youth its main focus. “The usual intervention is to identify those areas where these youth are generally located and we find that they are located particularly in the inner cities. We also find that these young persons are located in areas where they usually describe the situation around these areas as ‘nothing not happening’,” he explains.
Youth Link-Up has at its heart, the ‘rerouting of youth’ in the 15-24 cohort and beyond in instances where this is necessary.
“We might go outside of that age but our primary target is 15-24. This is a cohort that needs a greater level of intervention. This programme will seek to bring (in) these young persons, who are on the wrong side of the law. What we are trying to do is to show them a different way; show them that they don’t have to be under the strong grip of the dons,” Mr. Rose explains.
Youth Link-Up was launched as a pilot in depressed areas in the parishes of Clarendon, St. Catherine, Portland, Kingston and St. Andrew in February of this year.
Using community youth clubs and youth councils as its first point of entry, the programme involves partnership with the National Youth Service (NYS), the HEART Trust/NTA and the Social Development Commission, to identify and equip young people with the requisite training in technical and vocational areas and provide them with the discipline needed to cope with the world of work.
With the expertise provided by the Jamaica Business Development Centre, Jamaica Youth Business Trust (JYBT), the youth are guided in developing their entrepreneurial skills and are provided with funding to create their own businesses.
Youth Link Up also partners with the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force to ensure a holistic intervention.
According to the Programme Co-ordinator, the mix of programme offerings will help to ensure that the skills and competencies of the youth are developed in addition to helping to hone their entrepreneurial skills.
He points out further, that the JYBT’s loan programme for youth entrepreneurs is further bolstered by a mentorship component.
“It is one thing to provide loans for them but we also have to ensure that they are mentored. It is a holistic intervention that we are trying and it’s not only about academics, it’s about the qualitative aspect of youth development,” he states.
To date, more than 1,000 youth have felt the Link-Up wind of change since it was piloted 10 months ago. “The response has been overwhelming. In fact, some of these individuals that have come through the link up programme have started training at the HEART/Trust and the NYS so we have already seen the impact of the programme on the young persons,” the Programme Co-ordinator says.
Though only five parishes have so far “felt the wave,” Mr. Rose is confident that “all parishes will feel the effect very soon” even though areas are targeted based on need. “We will be going into a number of areas, not only inner city areas but the country areas as well, to ensure that no stones are left unturned,” he informs.
“Wherever there are youth, who are not employed or in any training institution or really not contributing to society in terms of productivity then we are going there. So, irrespective of where that is, we’ll be there,” he asserts.
So far, Link-Up has even managed to bridge political divides and even although it is too soon to tell, change is already apparent in some sensitive areas. “We have had some success in Spanish Town with persons from all walks of life and political affiliations. Essentially, we have seen a sort of coming together which is what we wanted to see from the onset of the programme,” the Co-ordinator informs.
Noting that Youth Link-Up “offers a new window on the world and a new lease on life,” he says, “what we have been seeing is that there are young persons, who might be involved in crimes, who come to see that they don’t have to do things they are used to doing.””That in itself speaks volumes in terms of how they understand life. We are exposing them to something different,” he adds, noting that the testimonies of the beneficiaries have inspired others involved in crime and violence to make a change.
In the meantime, with its initial stint over, the programme is being evaluated. The Co-ordinator, while not able to give a specific date for the roll out, says the programme, when finally unleashed, will be “new, improved and dynamic”.
He informs that already, persons who were initially unattached have since been placed within organizations. Currently, he says emphasis is being placed on finding ways to ensure sustainability of the programme once it is fully implemented.
“We are looking at how it is that when we roll out this programme, we can ensure that we can essentially cater to these young persons because we don’t want to give them false hope. We want to ensure that we do provide opportunities for them and so we are also strengthening the network with the various agencies and so we can continue to refer these young persons to all these agencies,” he says.
In addition, he says a follow up component is to be included in the programme. “We want to ensure also that we follow-up because it’s quite one thing to host a programme, but it’s quite another thing to follow-up with these young persons,” he notes. The aim, he says, will be to keep track of the progress of individuals and to ascertain their status. “We don’t want to do this thing in a peripheral way. We want to make sure that we streamline whatever is being done that we will actually feel the effect of the intervention programme or we would have failed if they haven’t felt the effects and so we want to in the next phase, to ensure that this will be done,” the Programme Co-ordinator says.