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Their efforts would culminate in National Youth Parliament-Guyana (NYP), one of the most prestigious forums giving voice to a majority of often-voiceless youths possessing the tenacity to make leaders sit and listen.
It’s the story of how young people can truly make a difference.
Five years ago, the seed for it was sown. Today, the vision of NYP stands as a hallmark: “To groom young people into mature, responsible leaders, admired for their courage, intellect, caring disposition, unrestrained and constructive positions, opinions and ideas that could effect positive changes for the general development of themselves, peers and others in society, using a democratic framework.”
NYP has its genesis in the parent group of the Guyana Youth Development Association (GUYDA), which was established on February 13, 1999, as a non-governmental organisation, registered with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.
The main objective of GUYDA is to create conditions for the all-round development of youths, with emphasis on grooming them into mature, responsible and courageous leaders.
This organisation is governed by a constitution that allows for an Executive Committee of eight elected members, two committee members and an appointed member. The current Executive Committee elected to serve for two years in August 2001, comprises:
Mr. Kwame McCoy, Executive Director; Mr. Howard Samaroo, Deputy Director; Ms. Jennifer Ganesh, General Secretary; Ms. Latoya Perreira, Second Secretary; Ms. Petrona Jerome, Director of Research & Documentation; Mr. Nigel Shurland, Director of Finance; Ms. Thula Chapman, Director of Projects; Mr. Kyle Solomon, Director of Public Affairs; Ms. Latoya Fanfair, Committee Member; Mr. Ronald Harsawack, Committee Member; and Mr. Frankie Bobb-Semple, Adviser.
“The idea to start a youth group was something I had. I was part of youth groups, at the time. Looking at the groups that existed, then, I thought there was some need for someone to coordinate the efforts of young people; and something through which young people can formally channel their voices, becoming, in society, the official voice of, and behalf of young people,” says NYP Chief Coordinator, Kwame McCoy.
GUYDA hosted its first meeting in October 1998 with an attendance of nine although 25 youths were invited. The interest shown was heartening, though.
During its start-up operation, several members of GUYDA were lost as a result of migration, and apart from the current `fresh breed’, only two founding leaders - McCoy and Nigel Shurland - remain active in the activities of the group.
“At times, our numbers increased and diminished. Sometimes it was a bit worrying since people generally assess large numbers (in groups) with progress or movement of a sort,” remarked McCoy. “Yet, it was encouraging to know that there were persons who demonstrated willingness, desire and commitment…”
GUYDA undertook a number of projects, among which are HIV/AIDS awareness programmes, creative writing workshops and first aid courses. It also participated in the National Development Strategy (NDS), the formulation of the National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS, and other national and international forums. However, GUYDA gained fame among the myriad of youth organisations in Guyana following its hosting of National Youth Parliament in the past three years.
NYP was formatted in procedures used at the actual National Assembly. There were strict Standing Orders to be adhered to, a motion to be debated by youthful participants acting the role of Government Ministers and the Opposition, and consensus to be reached on any given issue before the sitting and media. It is the closest youths could come to grabbing the spotlight and slipping into the shoes of real politicians, if only for a day.
“The emphasis is on making youths accountable for what they say and do, by the very advocacy and leadership they give,” said McCoy.
When GUYDA decided in 2000 to host the inaugural National Youth Parliament as one of its projects, there was no intention of getting a little fame. It was felt strongly among the membership of GUYDA that serious attention, apart from simply debating, is required for the welfare of young people.
The youths staging NYP had vested their personal commitment, and their unending pledge, towards making an institution where young people can communicate to their governments and all who would listen.
“We realise that young people need to participate fully at policy-making levels, and we are here to take them through some of the stages. I must admit, however, that this is not an easy task. We, the Coordinators of NYP, do not have all the experience we would have liked to have. But as everyday progresses, we often find ourselves learning and acquiring new and innovative ways in which NYP can be successful,” admits one of 2002 debaters, Zulfikar Ally, who is now GUYDA member and International Relations Officer, NYP Committee.
Participants of NYP are drawn from all strata of society. Anyone in the age group 16 to 30 can qualify by submitting an essay advertised in the media on a given topic, and subsequent selection by a panel of expert, interviewing judges not affiliated to GUYDA.
Youths are fully groomed and schooled in everything from ethics to posture and parliamentary elocution, over several weeks prior to the actual NYP sitting, after which trophies and certificates are awarded to best speakers and participants.
Membership of GUYDA is extended, at the conclusion of NYP, to participants giving them an opportunity to continue youth promotion and development in Guyana.
“Participation in NYP has mostly impacted my life by boosting my self-confidence and improving my organisational ability. It has given me more ideas of how to work with people from different backgrounds, and how to be more responsible and accountable for my actions. My beliefs have been boosted in the fact that things can be done with just a will,” said McCoy.
He added: “I see NYP in Guyana as being a major player and stakeholder in the decision-making process that would govern our country.”
In the coming weeks, outreach visits are planned for areas such as Berbice, the Essequibo Coast, and Bartica, to heighten awareness about NYP and allow a wider cross-section of youths to participate, this year.
National Youth Parliament (Guyana) has been lauded by Head of State, Bharrat Jagdeo as a symbolic signal by young people showing the direction in which they want local politicians to deal with matters of significance to Guyana. In his speech of May 2002, at the staging of the Third National Youth Parliament debate, the President issued a call for similar activities to be hosted nationwide. The Head of State has said National Youth Parliament (Guyana) sends a very strong signal to Parliament that “the place to do Government’s business is across the table and not in confrontations or on the street”.
“The future of NYP is promising, not only for young people, but for Guyana as well,” according to Ally.
For this reason, a two-year programme has begun to make NYP a permanent institution in Guyana. A concept paper was created stating that the institutionalisation project will be planned, executed and implemented during a two-year period, which will focus on achieving specific tasks, spearheaded by a nine-member NYP Institutionalisation Committee.
By permission, the NYP Coordinating Committee responsible for the actual youth parliament will function temporarily out of Red House, in Kingston. But, during the two-year period a Secretariat will be established to administer and monitor the institutionalisation project in its entirety.
The actual project will function under a framework of consultation out of which the legalisation, implementation and sustenance phases will become operational.
“We recognise the fact that there is some degree of anxiety about this project, hence, a key aspect of it will entail networking, both regionally and internationally with established National Youth Parliaments to determine what is the most suitable, workable model for Guyana,” said Ally.
NYP-Guyana has already established links with youth parliaments in St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Albania and Suriname. Formal relations with these and future youth parliaments will be strengthened via the signing of Memoranda of Understanding, identifying key areas for cooperation, such as, youth exchanges, regional conferences, training seminars, and other programmes.
Representatives from youth parliaments in Canada, Suriname, the United Kingdom and St. Kitts are expected as honorary guests at the upcoming Fourth session of NYP 2003 scheduled for May 29 at Le Meridien Pegasus.
“At the sitting of our next parliament, we will be sending a message to all Guyanese. That message reads that the National Youth Parliament of Guyana is here to stay and here to represent the young people of this country,” said Ally.
“We have come a long way and there is no turning back now. The setting up of this parliament provides a window to invest in the future generation. As young people, we should not be seen as a symbol of the future. We are the future and the present and we must be involved in shaping the world we will live in as adults,” he added.
In 2002, participants in NYP debated the motion, `There should be tighter restrictions on public access to pornography in Guyana.’
All queries about NYP 2003 can be forwarded at the web address: firstname.lastname@example.org