by Nevar Smith, Commonwealth Youth Award Finalist for 2015
I currently live in the island of Grand Bahama, which is the second most populated island in the archipelagic nation known as the Bahamas. Before entering high school I had already developed a strong sense of duty to my community and country. I gained great knowledge and inspiration from a few of my relatives, particularly my aunt who served her country as a senator and diplomat in the past. Framed by these examples, I desired to see a change in my community and country and I developed a passion to be that positive change.
In addition to the influence of my family, my decision to become a youth advocate was primarily meant to fill a void that I noticed in my community. For a long time there were many useful youth development/empowerment programmes and initiatives that existed on Grand Bahama Island. Many young people have benefited from these programmes, but it became apparent that more youth support was needed. Moreover, the programmes were not designed to facilitate the process of engaging young persons to become more involved in the decision making and national development process while still in their youth phase.
Therefore, it is my view that young people all around the Bahamas and Caribbean region ought to have real influence when it comes to assisting the decision makers in crafting the kind of policies that young people can live with now and in the future. This vision is what ultimately drove me into my current role of a youth advocate.
After being frustrated by the lack of youth activism in my community, I decided to create an advocacy organisation called ‘The Bahamas Youth Movement’ (BYM) in 2007. At the time I was a student at the College of the Bahamas. It quickly became the most prominent and influential youth advocacy group on the island. The group’s membership was mainly made up of college students and young professionals between the ages of 18 to 30. Through this avenue, like-minded young Grand Bahamians could get more substantively involved in the community development process. After starting BYM, the group had to be registered with the Ministry of Youth’s (MOY) office on the island. Once this process was completed, I then became a part of a network of other youth groups and leaders that were all registered with the MOY at the time. Soon afterwards, I became a volunteer at the MOY and assisted the youth officers with the organisation of various programmes and events all geared toward youth inclusion and empowerment. BYM and its members went to work advocating for a wide variety of issues such as:
- greater youth participation on government appointed boards and committees
- more youth focused entrepreneurship and career development incentives
- more financial support from local and central government towards youth programmes
- greater equality between men and women
- greater awareness about environmental conservation
One of the greatest initiatives that came out of the Bahamas Youth Movement was the Youth Expressions Radio Show which still airs on a local Bahamian station. It provides a platform for young persons to express themselves and to advocate for the causes which matter to them.
Positive influences in social causes
“To whom much is given much is required.” My journey as a youth advocate for the past eight (8) years has been a very fulfilling and empowering experience. As a result of my consistent effort to uplift my generation, I have been afforded the opportunity to represent my country at several conferences and forums around the region. Furthermore, I have been presented with several awards by the government and civic society recognising my contributions to youth development. By way of the Youth Expressions Radio Show, I have emerged as one of the most influential young persons in the entire country and region, which is a responsibility that I find to be very humbling. Recently, my election as a Local Government Councillor for the constituency of East Grand Bahama and my service as the Deputy Chief Councillor for the City of Freeport provide me with the platforms to further advocate youth development.
When I first became a youth advocate, I faced opposition and negative criticism toward my cause. Like many youth leaders, I lacked financial and moral support. My faith and an extraordinary amount of perseverance has helped me to overcome those challenges. I also researched the best practices for youth advocacy internationally so as to equip myself with the knowledge needed to be effective in this area.
The reality check
My most eye-opening experience was the resistance and cynicism that I received when I decided to become involved in youth advocacy. It became apparent that many were not receptive to social change and cling to the belief that young people ought to be seen and not heard. My opposition to that mentality served as my greatest motivation as a youth advocate.
The adolescent years for most young people can be a very vulnerable and confusing time in their lives. I have lived through that vulnerability and my past experiences fuelled me to be an advocate for other young persons who may be more susceptible to social problems. When I was made aware of the high number of children who are being abused verbally, physically, and emotionally, sometimes by the same persons who are meant to be their protectors, my passion for youth advocacy was further fuelled. Preventing and eliminating all forms of abuse inspires me to keep pressing on as a youth advocate despite the many challenges that confront me. I use every opportunity to speak out against the abuse that many of our children are subjected to across the Caribbean region.
A much more personal experience comes to mind when I contemplate on my inspirations and motivations. The encounter was brief, but it was a significant experience for me. During a break from my office, I had the pleasure of bumping into a young man who had been impacted by my work. I had been chatting with a friend when a gentlemen interrupted us and questioned whether I was the host of ‘Youth Expressions Live’. After answering his question, he said that he recognised my voice and then proceeded to express how beneficial the show has been to him and his friends over the years. He said that the insightful information the show delivers has helped him to transform his life and encouraged him through some rough hurdles. For this reason, my radio talk show is near and dear to my heart. For almost four years now it has been the only outlet of its kind in my community, one that has given myself and other youth leaders a platform to positively influence thousands of young people on any given day. As well-meaning citizens of the Caribbean, we must constantly do all that we can to stand up for and protect the future of the region, known as ‘The Youth’.
About the Author
Nevar Smith is a certified Youth Leader and a past member of the National Youth Policy Team and the National Youth Advisory Council in the Bahamas. He earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Tourism Management from The College of The Bahamas (COB) in 2011. During his time at COB he served as the Executive Vice President of the College of the Bahamas Union of Students (COBUS) at the Northern Campus in Freeport from 2007 to 2008. He then went on to serve in the same capacity at the main campus in Nassau from 2010 to 2011.